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Pakistan's Taliban name new leader but doubts remain.

Byline: Daily Star Staff

Summary: <p>The Pakistani Taliban has announced a successor to slain commander Baitullah Mehsud, but intelligence officials said on Sunday it was probably a smokescreen meant to hold together a movement left leaderless for almost three weeks.AaTaliban officials rang journalists in northwest Pakistan on Saturday to say Hakimullah Mehsud, a young militant who commands fighters in the Orakzai.

Kamran HaiderAa

ReutersAa

Aa

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani Taliban has announced a successor to slain commander Baitullah Mehsud, but intelligence officials said on Sunday it was probably a smokescreen meant to hold together a movement left leaderless for almost three weeks.AaTaliban officials rang journalists in northwest Pakistan on Saturday to say Hakimullah Mehsud, a young militant who commands fighters in the Orakzai, Khyber and Kurram tribal regions, had been chosen as the new chief by a leadership council, or shura.Aa

Western governments with troops in Afghanistan are watching to see if any new Pakistani Taliban leader would shift focus from fighting the Pakistani government and put the movement's weight behind the Afghan insurgency led by Mullah Mohammad Omar.Aa

A BBC report quoted Faqir Mohammad, head of the Taliban in the Bajaur region, as saying Hakimullah was selected.Aa

Tribal elders said Hakimullah was named after Faqir Mohammad was dissuaded from taking the leadership, although earlier he had said he was assuming temporary command.Aa

"There's confusion. Two days ago, Fariq Mohammad claimed he's acting chief and now he says Hakimullah is," one senior intelligence officer in northwest Pakistan said. "It's a trick."Aa

Intelligence officials insisted Hakimullah was killed or gravely wounded in a shootout with a rival days after Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a US missile strike on August 5. "The announcement is real, but the man isn't," the officer said. "The real Hakimullah is dead."Aa

Another senior officer, who requested anonymity, speculated the Taliban leadership was trying to buy time until one of Hakimullah's brothers returned from fighting in the Afghan insurgency to take command of his men.Aa

Verifying anything in the Taliban-held tribal regions is difficult and the past few weeks have seen a spate of claims and counter-claims by the Pakistani authorities and the militants.Aa

Taliban officials say Pakistani intelligence agents were spreading misinformation to create divisions in the movement.Aa

The Pakistani authorities say the Pakistani Taliban is in disarray and its statements are meant to preserve some sense of unity until a new leader emerges.Aa

The Taliban have denied Baitullah Mehsud was killed, but say he is seriously ill.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Aug 24, 2009
Words:441
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