The Pakistani Taliban on Saturday named Asmatullah Shaheen as its caretaker chief amid deep divisions among militant commanders over selecting a successor to warlord Hakimullah Mehsud who was killed in a US drone strike.
On Friday the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had named Shehryar Mehsud as its caretaker chief but after intense debates consensus between various militant factions was reached on Shaheen's name.
Shaheen will officiate as acting chief of the TTP as he is also the chief of the Shura 'Aali' or Central Shura, Taliban sources said. There are various Shuras or councils within the Taliban and the 'Aali' Shura is the central one.
The Shura on Friday had initially agreed on Khan Syed alias Sajna's name as its new chief during a meeting in South Waziristan but later withheld the decision due to opposition from commanders belonging to the Nuristan Shura. Mehsud and five other militants were killed in Friday's drone strike in Danday Darpakhel area in North Waziristan.
Enraged by the killing of Mehsud, the Taliban has vowed to take revenge for the drone attack in which the militant group alleged the Pakistani government was involved. Deep divisions have emerged among the TTP ranks on who would be their next chief.
Each Shura wants its own man at the helm because he would control the entire group and have a say over the finances, the sources said. Such a scenario also prevailed when Mehsud was chosen as the chief in 2009.
Sajna, 36, remains at the top of the list to succeed Mehsud. He is said to be a close associate of Mehsud and was given the title of Sajna by slain Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. Besides Sajna, the central council is said to be considering three other commanders - Umar Khalid Khurasani, Mullah Fazlullah and Ghalib Mehsud.
Mohmand Taliban chief Khurasani was a strong contender as he was the only surviving senior commander who had directly led operations under Mehsud. Fazlullah, chief of the Swat Taliban, was another possible choice but he is currently in Afghanistan. Mehsud, in his mid 30s, was killed with five other Taliban fighters and they were buried on Friday at undisclosed locations in different parts of North Waziristan.
The killing of Mehsud sparked a sharp reaction from the Pakistani government, which accused the US of deliberately sabotaging the peace process with the Taliban. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan claimed a group of clerics was ready to go and meet the TTP to initiate talks, which have been backed by all major political parties, when the drone strike killed Mehsud.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will chair a special cabinet meeting on Sunday to take stock of the situation and to review the entire gamut of bilateral ties and cooperation with the US.