Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud (L) sits beside Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal Al-Balawi, the suicide bomber who killed CIA agents in Afghanistan on 30 Dec, in this still image taken from video released January 9, 2010
We continue to see conflicting reports from Pakistani authorities and TTP leaders/spokesmen on the possible death of Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik i Taliban Pakistan).
Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal provides two great updates on the situation here and here. Both sides have released public statements in the last 1-2 days, while US intelligence officials continue to provide no confirmation one way or the other. Today, Maulvi Noor Jamal aka Maulvi Toofan (a TTP commander who reportedly took over for Hakimullah) issued a statement saying, "Hakeemullah was neither killed nor I have been appointed acting emir of the Taliban."
Contrasting the Taliban statements, the Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik also released a statement claiming he had "credible information" that Hakimullah was in fact dead, but he offered no concrete evidence. Unfortunately, Malik has been wrong several times before with his claims of dead insurgent leaders, in particular when he claimed that Hakimullah was killed in a clash back in Aug 2009 over who would succeed the recently killed Baitullah Mehsud.
Although no credible evidence exists either way (due in large part to the inability of Pakistani forces to even operate in the area where Hakimullah was reportedly killed - near the city of Multan), I believe that Hakimullah is in fact dead or gravely injured. The persistent nature of the rumors of his death have typically been enough to justify a videotape, but this time we saw a highly unusual statement at the end of January from Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq who claimed that the TTP didn't have to release a video to prove Hakimullah was alive. I strongly believe that if Hakimullah was able to make a video, it would have already been released by now to assuage concerns stemming from the rumors of his death. The lack of a video and the bizarre rationale for not releasing anything are in my opinion the strongest proof that Hakimullah is in fact dead (or so seriously hurt that he cannot be filmed in his current state).
Al Sahwa will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they become available.