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Prove Mehsud is alive, Pak to Taliban

world Updated: Aug 11, 2009 17:17 IST

Pakistan on Tuesday again asked the Taliban to prove that its leader Baitullah Mehsud was alive, with Interior Minister Rehman Malik saying the government had "credible and substantial" information that he had been eliminated.

"We have credible and substantial evidence about the death of Baitullah Mehsud," Malik told reporters at Parliament House.

He also termed the militant leader's deputy Hakimullah Mehsud "insignificant" adding: "Baitullah is the main issue. Now the TTP (Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan) should prove he is alive."

If Hakimullah Mehsud claimed to have met with Baitullah Mehsud, he could have videotaped the meeting and provided it to the media as proof, the minister maintained.

He also noted that Azam Tariq, the new spokesperson of the TTP, "has also confirmed Baitullah's death".

"They, (TTP) have made contradicting statements over the issue. First they claimed that Baitullah is alive. Then they said he is ill. Now they are saying he is serious. Tomorrow, they would say he is dead," Malik added.

Malik said he had received information from different sources about the infighting in Taliban groups over the succession of Baitullah Mehsud and the vast funds at his command.

Malik replied in the negative when asked whether US intelligence agencies had shared video footage of the drone attack on Baitullah Mehsud last week in which he is supposed to have died.

On Monday, the minister had said the attack on Mehsud was conducted in the intervening night of Aug 5 and 6, and "was a successful one".

"Baitullah's doctor has also confirmed his presence at the house in the attack night," Malik added.

He told BBC that following Mehsud's death, the Pakistan Taliban appeared to be in disarray and there were reports of deadly infighting over who should replace Mehsud.

"It will take some time for them to regroup," Malik said, but expressed concern that Al Qaida was trying to install someone as Mehsud's replacement.

"The other thing which is a bit worrying is that Al Qaida is getting grouped in the same place, and now they are trying to find somebody to install him as the leader, as the chief terrorist, in that area," Malik said.

A pro-government tribal leader Turkestan Bittani Sunday claimed that fighting between rival groups for the leadership of Pakistani Taliban had left 24 rebels, including two possible successors to Baitullah Mehsud, dead.

The top Taliban commander was believed killed along with his younger wife in a US missile attack on his father-in-law's house in South Waziristan Wednesday.

According to Bittani, Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman exchanged fire at a meeting of shura, Taliban's advisory council, which was choosing a successor to Mehsud in the lawless tribal district of South Waziristan.

"Twenty-one more people also died in the clashes that still continue in various areas," said Bittani, a Taliban defector and old rival of Baitullah Mehsud.