Pakistani Taliban Reportedly Elects New Leader After U.S. Drone Strike
A day after a U.S. drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, the group's fighters congregated for his funeral, vowing "unprecedented" revenge for the attack. Meanwhile, reports are suggesting that Mehsud's successor has already been selected, with the consultative body appointing Khan Said — also known by his alias, Sajna — to be the new chief. Said, who was formerly in charge of many operations in South Waziristan, was reportedly chosen after getting 43 of the 60 votes in the Shura, the Taliban's consultative body.
The Shura Council, which consists of commanders representing various sections of the militant group, reportedly gathered at a secret location Saturday in the North Waziristan tribal area to elect the former leader's successor. Two other militants were apparently also being considered — one of them was none other than the commander whose men shot and injured Malala Yousafzai last year. Thirty-five-year-old Said, who was a lieutenant of Mehsud's, is believed to have been behind the 2012 jailbreak in Pakistan that freed roughly 400 inmates.
According to a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) official, "Sajna has no basic education, conventional or religious, but he is battle-hardened and has experience of fighting in Afghanistan."
Mehsud (who has been reported killed various times in the past, only to re-appear, movie-like, soon after) was confirmed dead Friday, after his vehicle was struck on his way back from a meeting of Taliban leaders. His body was recovered Saturday, "damaged but recognizable," according to one of the fighters.
The strike, which occurred hours after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had announced that his government would begin peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, has enraged both the Pakistani government and the TTP. A top Taliban commander has warned that "revenge will be unprecedented," while another Pakistani Taliban spokesman said that "every drop of Hakimullah's blood will turn into a suicide bomber." And a government official has called the strike "an attempt by the U.S. to sabotage peace talks."
However, although the government was though to have entirely called off all plans for negotiations after the strike, the Pakistani Information Minister Pervez Rasheed said Saturday that the government would not allow the peace deals to be quelled.
"We can say that this time drone struck the peace talks but we will not let the peace talks die," Rasheed said.
After the Taliban's second-in-command was killed in a drone strike last May, the TTP had strongly rejected any attempts at peace deals, accusing the Pakistani government of being in cahoots with the U.S. So it's been assumed that Mehsud's death would be a major roadblock for the negotiations — but a ray of hope lies with the newly elected Sajna, whose group has previously been in favor of dialogue with the government.