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Asia

Pakistani Taliban might change leadership

Pakistani military sources have said that the Pakistani Taliban are preparing to change leadership, which could mean less attacks inside Pakistan. Security experts, however, say it would not change anything.

Media reports citing anonymous Pakistani military officials claim that Pakistani Taliban - one of the most feared militant groups in the world - are likely to change their leadership soon. The Pakistani military sources hope that the removal of the present Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud - who has been leading the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the last three years - would mean less violence against the Pakistani state by the Taliban. They claim that the new leadership will focus more on Afghanistan and the Taliban attacks against US-led international forces are likely to increase.

A military official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Mehsud's ideology of "extreme violence" had alienated him among the Taliban fighters.

Pakistani soldiers escort a Shiite Muslim religious procession on the ninth day of holy month of Moharram in Quetta on November 24, 2012 (Photo: BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Taliban have increased their attacks against civilians and security inside Pakistan

"Rehman (Wali-ur-Rehman) is fast emerging as a consensus candidate to formally replace Mehsud," said the army official. "Now we may see the brutal commander replaced by a more pragmatic one for whom reconciliation with the Pakistani government has become a priority."

Another military official based in Wana - capital of the restive South Waziristan region close to the Afghan border - told Reuters that Rehman represented the "moderate Taliban" and there were chances that under his leadership, the Pakistani Taliban would "dial down its fight against the Pakistani state, unlike Hakimullah, who believes in wanton destruction here."

'Meaningless'

Shahram Azhar, a Pakistani economist and activist based in Amherst, USA, told DW that the expected change in the Taliban leadership was not going to have impact on how the militants had been operating.

"The Taliban represent a brutal, fascist and barbaric ideology that cannot be changed without routing it completely. No change in the leadership or the organizational structure will lead to a sustainable solution to the problem," Azhar said.

Karachi-based security analyst and political commentator Ali K. Chishti also told DW that it would not be the leader of the Pakistani Taliban but Mullah Omar - the central Afghan Taliban leader who was the head of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 - who would determine the strategies of the Taliban vis-à-vis the whole region.

"It depends on how much Mullah Omar is willing to compromise," Chishti said.

Chishti also said that the TTP was a group of loosely connected militants, and that the change of organizational leadership would not be an easy task to accomplish. "The Taliban have a shura (a committee of leaders) from various militant groups which select the chief. There is a tribal politics involved in it as well. It would be interesting to see whether the Mehsud tribe (of the present TTP chief) would again push for a leader from their clan."

An ISAF soldier in Afghanistan (Photo: Maurizio Gambarini +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)

Some NATO troops will stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014

Reconciliation

Experts also say that the new Taliban leadership might make things more complicated for the US and its efforts to stabilize Afghanistan before its forces wind up operations against Islamist militants in the war-torn country in 2014. They say that any Taliban leadership, which is closer to Pakistan, is likely to pursue the Pakistani military's Afghanistan policies rather than paying heed to US demands.

The Afghan government and the US accuse the Pakistani military and its Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of supporting its favorite Taliban factions to use them as a bargaining chip while dealing with Kabul and Washington. Experts say that, despite the fact that the Pakistani authorities recently handed over some Taliban leaders to Afghan authorities so that they could negotiate with them, it is unlikely that it is going to abandon its policy of maintaining strategic influence in Afghanistan through the Taliban.

Dr. Naeem Ahmed, professor of International Relations at Karachi University, told DW that Pakistan wanted "to see a bigger role for the Taliban in Afghanistan."

"Washington and Kabul also want to take the Taliban on board, and they are already conducting secret talks with some of their factions, but they want to exclude Pakistan from these negotiations," Ahmed said, adding that it was not going down well with Islamabad, which wanted the US and the Afghan governments to take on board the Pakistan-friendly Taliban and negotiate with them through Pakistani security officials.

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