(RFE/RL) -- Taliban commanders have contacted news agencies in Pakistan, informing reporters that the militant group has appointed 28-year-old Hakimulllah Mehsud as the new leader of the movement in Pakistan.
However, intelligence officials in Islamabad have dismissed the claim as an attempty by Taliban commanders to preserve some sense of unity among the loose alliance, which has been left without a leader for more than two weeks.
Pakistan and U.S. officials maintain that the previous Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed by a U.S. missile attack on August 5 in the South Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border.
The Taliban say Baitullah is alive but that he is ill.
A Taliban commander, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, has been quoted by news agencies as saying a Taliban shura unanimously elected Hakimullah as the new chief or the Taliban, because “Baitullah is seriously sick” and that Baitullah wants to appoint his successor while he is alive.
Hakimullah is considered Baitullah’s close ally.
Ahmad Sayeedi, an independent expert and former Afghan diplomat in Pakistan, told RFE/RL that Hakimullah is “much more ruthless and aggressive than his predecessor" and that "he is much greater threat both to Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
“Some Taliban commanders, including Maulvi Faqir, Maulvi Nazir, and Gul Bahadur were against conducting suicide attacks in Pakistan; they said such attacks should only be carried out in Afghanistan. There are two different opinions among Taliban commanders over the issue," Sayeedi says.
"Hakimullah is among those who say fighting should be conducted both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. With his appointment as the new leader, attacks will intensify in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he added.
Hakimullah has been a military chief of the Tahrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) organization formed by Baitullah to unite some 13 militant groups and tribal factions into a loose alliance.
Hakimullah has claimed responsibility for masterminding the June 9 suicide attack on the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar that killed at least 11 people and wounded more than 50.
He was also behind the deadly ambush on the Sri Lanka cricket team in the Pakistani city of Lahor in March.
Hakimullah reportedly controls some 2,000 TTP militants in Pakistan’s Khyber, Kurram, and Orakzai regions.
His alleged appointment as the new Taliban leader is seen by many as a confirmation of Baitullah’s death.
RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah contributed to this report; with news agency material