Exclusive: Emerging Pakistan Taliban chief to focus on Afghan war

Thu Dec 6, 2012 11:53am EST
 
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By Mehreen Zahra-Malik

WANA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan's Taliban, one of the world's most feared militant groups, are preparing for a leadership change that could mean less violence against the state but more attacks against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Pakistani military sources said.

Hakimullah Mehsud, a ruthless commander who has led the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the last three years, has lost operational control of the movement and the trust of his fighters, said a senior Pakistan army official based in the South Waziristan tribal region, the group's stronghold.

The organization's more moderate deputy leader, Wali-ur-Rehman, 40, is poised to succeed Mehsud, whose extreme violence has alienated enough of his fighters to significantly weaken him, the military sources told Reuters.

"Rehman is fast emerging as a consensus candidate to formally replace Hakimullah," said the army official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. "Now we may see the brutal commander replaced by a more pragmatic one for whom reconciliation with the Pakistani government has become a priority."

Pakistani military officials in Rawalpindi, headquarters of the army, declined comment on the Taliban leadership struggle and said they had no official position on the issue.

The TTP, known as the Pakistan Taliban, was set up as an umbrella group of militants in 2007.

Its main aim is to topple the U.S.-backed government in Pakistan and impose its austere brand of Islam across the country of 185 million people, although it has also carried out attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

The militants intensified their battle against the Pakistani state after an army raid on Islamabad's Red Mosque in 2007, which had been seized by allies of the group.   Continued...

 
Wali-ur-Rehman (C), deputy Pakistani Taliban leader, who is flanked by militants speaks to a group of reporters in Shawal town, that lies between North and South Waziristan region in the northwest bordering Afghanistan July 28, 2011. REUTERS/Saud Mehsud