Apparently Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan's leadership is still in limbo. Faqir Mohammed, a deputy of Baitullah Mehsud and commander of Bajaur Agency, has denied Mehsud's death, alleging he is ill and in hiding. As a result, he claimed de facto command. Unlike Hakimullah Mehsud, who is in his 20's, Mohammed is no stranger to the Taliban having been introduced to Sufi Mohammad in 1993.
"I was the deputy leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban," said Mohammed, "and now since Baitullah Mehsud is unable to perform as head of the organization due to health reasons and unable to come on the foreground, I am announcing I am assuming the role of acting chief."
His proclamation appears to be evidence of political infighting, but Mohammed stated this wasn't the case. Though, "Maulvi Waliur Rehman or Hakimullah Mehsud have no authority to appoint a new chief without consulting the Taliban in various areas and neither can the Waziristan Taliban make such decisions," he praised Rehman and Hakimullah as, "capable of carrying out leadership responsibilities, however, a decision like this will only be taken through consultation and consensus."
The shura that sparked an alleged shootout is then one of two options: fictitious or a propaganda act of solidarity. Mohammed also ignored Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the regional commander for North Waziristan, who is supposedly Mehsud's first deputy, or Naib Amir. Regardless, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is far from dead. Richard Holbrooke, America's special ambassador to Pakistan, was in Karachi for briefings on Pakistan's military operations. "We are fighting against the common enemy," he said.
So is the Taliban.
"Even if Baitullah Mehsud is martyred, it will not affect the Taliban movement," Mohammed told the BBC. "Now, when the entire world has its eye on us, our shura will decide our future leader in consultation with all. The congregation of Taliban leaders has 32 members and no important decision can be taken without their consultation."
News of the Taliban's leadership structure and decision process coincided with a Pakistani general's admission that the ground offensive in Waziristan is still months away. America, in the form of Holbrooke, has been pushing for an early green light to the operations. But Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed told reporters that, "Once you feel that the conditions are right... you go in for a ground offensive." At the moment the army lacks "the right kind of equipment."
One wonders whether that equipment might soon appear with an American flag stamped on the side.
For now it appears Pakistan won't press the Taliban too hard; General Ahmed said the operation may even be delayed beyond the upcoming winter. They'll play nice in public, but America and Pakistan likely disagree on the timing. America believes now is the chance to break the Taliban's back while Pakistan is still worried about opening too large a front. Now may be the only opportunity to strike, but a wider war would certainly erupt with the invasion of Waziristan.
If operational plans stay as they are, America and Pakistan will likely lose the initiative to dismantle Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which has a plethora of commanders waiting in the wings. Pakistan evidently believes it can starve the Taliban into fragility, then go in for the death blow. This strategy has yet to work and will allow the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to regroup. Even more, success against Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan hasn't had any impact on Afghanistan, where the Taliban is growing more brazen each day.
The hydra is still growing. Political, economics, and social reform in the FATA is the real strategy for burning off the heads, though reform opens the possibility of secession.
[Update: Hakeemullah Mehsud has reportedly been chosen as chief of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Faqir Mohammed claims so himself.
"The shura has appointed Hakimullah as successor to Baitullah Mehsud," said Mohammed. "The shura earlier had nominated me as the acting chief but now I will be again deputy chief. I shall continue to be ameer (chief) of TTP in Bajaur,
"Now all these talks of differences should end," said Bakht Zada, an aide to Faqir Mohammed. "There have not been any differences ever."
Zada said Faqir Mohammad and Maulana Fazullah, leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammandi (TNSM) were offered the chair, but declined due to their own operations. Mohammed also apparently engaged in disinformation, claiming before that 32 members make up the Taliban shura and now 45. The Nation appears to be lagging. Spying is a more plausible threat to the TTP than infighting.]