ISLAMABAD: The international media has made contradictory claims about a potential split in the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) with a British news agency stating, “The TTP is preparing for a leadership change by replacing Hakimullah Mehsud with his second-in-command, Waliur Rehman.” But an American news website has refuted the story, stating, “In the process of making the case for a split between the two leaders, Pakistani military officials (being the source of the story) have told an easily demonstrable lie.” On his part, the TTP spokesman has categorically denied any decision of removing the TTP chief from his position.
Hakimullah is most wanted not only by Pakistani agencies but also by the Americans for killing seven CIA officials on December 30, 2009 at a CIA base in Afghanistan, and for the failed bombing of Times Square in New York City on May 1, 2010. Washington and Islamabad have announced a bounty of $5 million and Rs50 million, respectively, on his head, forcing him to go underground. Since Hakimullah is in deep hiding to avoid deadly US drone strikes in the Waziristan region, his No 2 Waliur Rehman is serving as the de-facto chief of the TTP, thus giving rise to rumours that he was about to replace his boss. Wali has already been designated a global terrorist by US State Department, with a $5 million bounty on his head. Pakistan has offered a Rs50 million reward for information that leads to his capture or killing.
The debate about the future of Hakimullah’s leadership actually began on December 6 when the British news agency Reuters reported that the TTP was reviewing its policies and shifting its focus from Pakistan to Afghanistan. The report said apart from many other policy changes that could result in less violence against the Pakistani state but more attacks against the allied forces in Afghanistan, Hakimullah will be replaced by Waliur Rehman, his No 2 in the TTP who leads the militants in South Waziristan. The news agency quoted a senior army official based in South Waziristan as claiming that Hakimullah has lost operational control of TTP and the trust of his fighters, and that Wali is poised to succeed Mehsud, “whose extreme violence has alienated enough of his fighters to significantly weaken him”.
Reuters interviewed several senior military officials and tribal elders during a three-day trip in South Waziristan last week, getting rare access to an area that has been a virtual no-go zone for journalists. The news agency has quoted unnamed informers as saying that while Hakimullah has pushed the war with the Pakistani state, Waliur Rehman wants the battle to be against the US-led allied forces in Afghanistan. “Rehman has even held secret negotiations with the Pakistan government in the past but Hakimullah always stood in his way, wanting to carry on fighting the Pakistani military. They were at each other’s throats earlier this year and hostilities were close to open warfare. Differences within the ranks have only gotten worse, not better, rendering the TTP a much weaker force today than a few years ago,” the Reuters report quoted another military official as saying.
However, while laughing off the British news agency’s report, American news website Long War Journal stated on December 7, “For some reason, Reuters seems to want to perpetuate the myth that Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the top two leaders of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, are at each other’s throats, a claim that Waliur Rehman himself has denied. This time, unnamed Pakistani military sources are making the claims. But in the process of making the case for the split between the two leaders, the Pakistani officials tell an easily demonstrable lie.
“While making the case that Hakimullah is no longer in charge of the TTP operations, the Reuters has claimed that Mehsud had not commanded any recent operations, including an August 16 (2012) attack on the Minhas Airbase in Pakistan and a suicide attack on a street market in May (2012) that killed 24 people. The Reuters has also claimed that the April 15 jail break in Bannu that freed 384 Taliban prisoners, was planned by Waliur Rehman.”
The Long War Journal then made fun of the Reuters report while claiming, “We know for a fact that Hakimullah Mehsud was involved in the planning of the Bannu jail break.” It then explains: “The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan released a videotape of the operation, in which both Waliur Rehman and Hakimullah appeared. And guess what? Hakimullah himself appeared on the videotape where Taliban are staging to conduct the jail attack. He can be seen surrounded by his men along with Waliur Rehman proving that Hakimullah was indeed directly involved in the Bannu prison break.” The Long War Journal concluded its report by stating, “Pakistani officials have been promoting a split between Hakimullah and Waliur for years, beginning with the fake battle at the shura to succeed Baitullah Mehsud who was killed in an August 2009 drone strike. The battle never happened, yet Pakistani officials insist to this day that it did.”