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Pakistan probing reports of Taliban commander shooting

Pakistan was investigating unconfirmed reports of a deadly shooting between top Taliban commanders in a remote region near the Afghan border, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Saturday.

world Updated: Aug 08, 2009 23:22 IST

Pakistan was investigating unconfirmed reports of a deadly shooting between top Taliban commanders in a remote region near the Afghan border, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Saturday.

"We have reports that there was fighting between Wali-ur Rehman and Hakimullah... I said earlier that one of them is dead. I will not disclose the name. I am seeking verification," Malik told private TV station Geo.

The men were reportedly at a meeting of commanders in the tribal region of South Waziristan to chose a possible successor to Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who Pakistani intelligence officials say is dead.

Hakimullah Mehsud is a deputy of Baitullah Mehsud and the warlord's main spokesman. Wali-ur Rehman is a senior commander in Baitullah Mehsud's umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) movement.

Although Pakistan said Friday it believed Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack in South Waziristan alongwith his wife on Wednesday, confusion has reigned and the government has stopping short of confirming his death.

Pakistani intelligence officials say he is dead, but members of the Taliban have told media outlets that he is still alive, albeit providing no evidence.

"We have solid reports about the killing of Baitullah Mehsud but the situation will be clear in the next 48 hours," Malik told Geo television.

Analysts have said Mehsud's death, if confirmed, would deal a heavy blow to TTP, seen increasingly as the bloodiest orchestrator of extremist bombings that have killed about 2,000 people in Pakistan over two years.

"It will trigger a leadership crisis, they will find it very difficult to fill the vacuum. There cannot be a bigger loss for TTP than losing Mehsud," a Pakistani expert on tribal affairs, Rahimullah Yusufzai, told AFP.