Hakeemullah Mehsud, left, or his body double?. AFP photo.
Pakistani intelligence officials and Interior Minister Rehman Maik are now claiming that Hakeemulah Mehsud is dead and his twin brother is standing as the new Taliban chief.From The Times of India:
The Taliban, in order to save their image, are giving the impression that Hakeemullah Mehsud is alive, while the truth is the man selected as the new chief of Teherik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is his lookalike brother, the report said citing intelligence sources. Pakistani officials believe Hakeemullah Mehsud is already dead.
The interior ministry said Mehsud’s “lookalike brother” was specially summoned from Afghanistan to head the group in Pakistan.
As a US intelligence official told me last night, Pakistani intelligence appears to have “veered into X-files land on this one.”
Hakeemullah has been reported killed in two separate incidents: first in the Aug. 5 airstrike that reportedly killed Baitullah Mehsud, then in the so-called battle-at-the-Taliban-shura days after Baitullah was reported killed. He has spoken to the media several times since these reports, but Pakistani intel claims his voice was faked (people continue to say this about Osama bin Laden).
If anything, utilizing a stand-in would hurt the Taliban’s image. Hakeemullah isn’t the only viable Taliban commander to fill Baitullah’s shoes. Waliur Rehman Mehsud and Qari Hussain Mehsud also top this list, among others. Clearly there is a struggle over who should take over for Baitullah. Putting in a body double for Hakeemullah would be about the most ham-fisted move the Taliban could make. More likely, this is part of what appears to be the clumsy information operation being waged against the Taliban to sow dissent in the ranks. That is all well and good, but in the process the Pakistani government risks sacrificing any remaining credibility.
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