Hakimullah Mehsud: Pakistan forces on alert after death

James Robbins explains how Mehsud became one of America's most wanted

Pakistan's security forces have been put on high alert following the US drone strike on Friday which is believed to have killed Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

A spokesman told the BBC all security measures were now being taken.

Pakistan media say Mehsud's funeral has taken place at an unknown location in the tribal area of North Waziristan.

A Pakistan government minister said the drone strike had destroyed attempts to hold peace talks with the militants.

Mehsud was killed along with four other people - including two of his bodyguards - when four missiles struck their vehicle in the north-western region of North Waziristan, a senior Taliban official told the BBC.

The Taliban's ruling council met on Saturday to choose a new leader. Unconfirmed reports say regional commander Khan Said Sajna has been elected to the top job.

As well as Mehsud, the previous Pakistan Taliban leader was killed in a drone strike, in 2009.

Talks 'sabotaged'

Analysis

Hakimullah Mehsud was killed one day before Pakistani officials say they were scheduled to send a three-member team to start peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Pakistan's interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar, told a local TV news channel, Geo, that the drone strike was an attempt to "sabotage" Pakistan's peace talks with Taliban.

But many believe Mehsud's death will leave the field open for groups that are known to have publicly favoured a rapprochement with Pakistan.

One of these groups is headed by Khan Said Sajna, the successor of Waliur Rehman, a militant commander who favoured talks with Islamabad and once contested for the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). Rehman was killed in a drone strike in May.

Sajna is one of those now tipped to succeed Mehsud.

Neither the Pakistani nor US governments have officially confirmed or denied the reports of the strike and Mehsud's death.

However, Pakistan's security forces have been put on high alert. Militants have in the past carried out retaliatory attacks after the killings of other Taliban commanders.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the US president's National Security Council, would not comment on any US government involvement or confirm the death but said, if true, it would be a serious loss for the group.

Several previous claims of Mehsud's death, made by US and Pakistani intelligence sources, have proven untrue.

Without commenting on Mehsud's death, the Pakistan government said it strongly condemned the drone attack as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.

It took place a day before the a delegation had been due to fly to North Waziristan to meet Mehsud and other senior militants.

But Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan said the strike had destroyed the government's attempts to hold peace talks.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had pledged to talk with the Taliban to try to end its campaign of violence, which has left thousands dead in bombings and shootings across the country.

Potential successors

Some Pakistani media reports say Mehsud's funeral took place on Saturday , but the details are unclear.

A report in Pakistan's Express Tribune said Mehsud had already been buried - in an unknown location in North Waziristan. The report cannot be independently confirmed.

Hakimullah Mehsud

  • Became overall leader of Pakistani Taliban in 2009, aged 30, after his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, died in a US drone strike
  • Masterminded campaign against Nato convoys in Khyber tribal region and Peshawar
  • Emerged as a prominent fighter after reputedly leading a raid that captured 300 soldiers
  • In 2010, he appeared in a video alongside a Jordanian who later killed seven CIA agents in Afghanistan in a suicide attack

Taliban commanders are also expected to meet on Saturday to debate Mehsud's successor.

There are conflicting reports in Pakistani media about who will become the next TTP chief, with some sources naming Mehsud's cousin, Qari Walayat Mehsud, and others reporting militant commander Khan Said Sajna as the chosen successor. Mullah Fazlullah is another candidate.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that Khan Said Sajna may be favoured.

Sajna heads one of the more influential groups that favours dialogue with the Islamabad government, he says.

Our correspondent says that the influential Punjabi Taliban may also have a say. Although they cannot dominate the Mehsud-led TTP, he says the Punjabi force plays an important role in supplying highly trained and ideologically motivated fighters.

Mehsud's death is seen as another setback for the militant group after the recent capture of a senior commander by US forces in Afghanistan.

Hakimullah Mehsud spoke exclusively to the BBC in a recent interview

Mehsud, who led the insurgency from North Waziristan, had a $5m (£3.1m) FBI bounty on his head and was thought to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.

He came to prominence in 2007 as a commander under the militant group's founder Baitullah Mehsud, with the capture of 300 Pakistani soldiers adding to his prestige among the militants.

His second-in-command, Waliur Rehman, was killed in a similar drone strike in May.

But BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says that, however weakened the Taliban may be by this loss, they will fight on under a new leader.

In a rare interview with the BBC two weeks ago, Mehsud said he was open to "serious talks" with the government but said he had not yet been approached.

Mehsud denied carrying out recent deadly attacks in public places, saying his targets were "America and its friends".

He had loose control over more than 30 militant groups in Pakistan's tribal areas.

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