Pakistani Taliban in bind over choosing new leader

Noor Wali and Umar Rehman — 2 top commanders — strong contenders to lead militant network after killing of Mullah Fazlullah
KARACHI / ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: A bruising division is likely to hit the already fractured Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — the mother organization of the Pakistani Taliban — as the militant network is set to choose a new head following the death of its leader in a U.S. drone strike last week, according to intelligence sources and local experts.
Mullah Fazlullah — also known as “Mullah Radio” for his fiery radio speeches — was killed along with four other militants in a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan’s northeastern Kunar province on June 13 — a development that pleased Islamabad, which accused Fazlullah of being involved in numerous terrorist attacks on its security forces and civilians in recent years.
Founded in 2007 by Baitullah Mehsud — hailing from the powerful Mehsud tribe of the South Waziristan tribal region — and now following two previous successions over the last decade, the TTP already stands divided into four groups: the Swat group, Mehsud group, Bajaur Agency group, and Darra Adamkhel group.
“Choosing a new leader at this stage will not be an easy task for the Pakistani Taliban, especially when the network already stands divided into different sub-groups,” Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based security expert, told Anadolu Agency.
“Eventually, a new leader will be chosen but more likely at the cost of further division, and maybe more infighting,” he added.
“If we look at previous successions, the TTP appeared to be fractured,” he maintained.
The terrorist network suffered its first major blow in 2009 after Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone strike in South Waziristan, which stoked infighting for his succession among various TTP factions. But Hakimullah Mehsud, a close confidant of Mehsud, managed to win the succession war following the splintering of a powerful group led by Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud, who later also was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2013 in South Waziristan, the then-TTP headquarters.
The formidable network saw another split over the choosing of Mullah Fazlullah as the first non-Mehsud chief in 2013 after the death of Hakimullah Mehsud in another U.S. drone strike, in North Waziristan. Several Mehsud commanders, including Shehryar Mehsud and Tariq Mehsud, parted ways with the militant network over the selection of a non-Mehsud chief. The months of infighting also killed scores of militants from different sides.
“The TTP Shura [consultative council] has met thrice in the last three days in Kunar to settle the issue but nothing has so far been decided due to serious differences between the Swat and Mehsud groups,” an intelligence official operating in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.
According to the official, both groups, which currently dominate the network, are insisting on taking the helm.
“The Swat group wants to retain the leadership, whereas the Mehsud group insists that the post should go back to the founding tribe of the network,” the official added.
In terms of numbers, according to experts, Mehsud dominates the network.
– Contenders
The TTP Shura is basically considering two top commanders — Umar Rehman from the Swat group, and Noor Wali from the Mehsud group — to be the next leader, according to intelligence sources and experts.
Another intelligence source claimed that Rehman, 45, who is currently serving as the TTP’s operational commander, has already been elected the new chief, but this was not confirmed by Taliban sources.
Rehman, who was reportedly involved in planning a suicide attack on the country’s former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf, fled to Afghanistan in 2009 after the Pakistani army launched an operation in the Swat Valley. He also uses “Umer Fateh” as an alias.
Another contender, Noor Wali — aka Abu Mansour Asim — 40, is currently acting as the TTP’s deputy chief. He joined the Afghan Taliban in 1999 and took part in fighting against its then-Northern Alliance. He returned to Pakistan in 2001 following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and joined hands with local Taliban to participate in activities against Pakistan’s army.
He is a member of the TTP Shura, and also acts as the chief of his own Mehsud faction.
“Noor Wali and Umar Rahman are both strong commanders inside the militants group, however Wali being the senior-most commander is expected to be chosen as the new TTP chief,” Ishtiaq Mahsud, an Islamabad-based expert on tribal affairs, told Anadolu Agency.
“Taliban sources told me that their Shura meeting is underway and probably they will announce the new name in the next two or three days,” he said.
“The Swat Taliban can’t run the TTP alone without the support of the Waziristan [Mehsud] Taliban. Therefore, in my opinion, they will not insist on the succession.”
Though the other two little-known commanders — Abu Bakar Mufti of the Bajaur group, and Abdullah of the Darra Adamkhel group — are not considered strong contenders, Taliban and intelligence sources believe that one could emerge as a “dark horse” if the Shura fails to resolve the differences between the Mehsud and Swat groups.–AA

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