News sources are reporting that Baitullah Mehsud, the elusive head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) [also known as the Pakistani Taliban] died of kidney failure. According to CNN, “An unnamed Islamabad-based source with connections within the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan said Mehsud died about 1 a.m. Wednesday. Military officials in the field confirmed to CNN that Mehsud had died.” Media outlets had previously speculated over Mehsud’s recent disappearance. The Nation reported today, “Well-informed sources told The Nation that the months long disappearance of the top Pakistani Taliban commander were casting doubts over his deteriorating health.”
Dawn [link is now gone] also reported that the TTP leader had died from kidney failure, adding, “Baitullah Mehsud was known to be suffering from diabetes and hypertension.” However, these reports have not been independently confirmed, and the militant organization is [not surprisingly] denying he is dead. The Nation also cited “an insider source” that said Mehsud did not disappear due to health reasons, but because of the military offensive in the tribal areas.
According to CNN, Mehsud’s death (if reports are true) “would leave a power vacuum within the Mehsud tribe and the Pakistani Taliban…Since there was no second in command of the Mehsud tribe, tribal splits are expected.” Analysts predict a power struggle to appoint the next leader of the TTP.
UPDATE [10/1]: Updated reports from Dawn and the AFP noted that despite reports that Mehsud had died, “officials and militant sources insisted he was still alive.” These sources reportedly told the AFP that Mehsud is seriously ill with diabetes and may be in a coma. Taliban commander Rahim Burki told the news agency, “He is only suffering from a bout of diabetes. He is under treatment but he will be all right.” Another commander said, “Baitullah needs medical attention two or three times a week and he is growing weaker.”
CHUP will cover this story as it is updated. For more information on Baitullah Mehsud, please click here to read CHUP’s backgrounder on the militant leader. [Image from the AFP]