Baitullah Mehsud getting tough competition from tribal rival

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Washington, May 11 (ANI): Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud faces an emerging rival from his local tribe in northwestern Pakistan and the power struggle could distract his Taliban militants along the border with Afghanistan from their spring offensive against US and allied troops.

Mehsud commands one of the three major pockets of Taliban fighters in Pakistan and his rugged domain here in South Waziristan provides a launch pad for cross-border attacks into southern Afghanistan.

His new adversary, Qari Zainuddin Mehsud, has joined forces with another splinter group and has dispatched his men to cut off Baitullah's movements and foment a popular uprising against him, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

"I think Baitullah is feeling constrained by this," says Mahmood Shah, Pakistan's former security chief of this lawless border region known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Zainuddin remains less organized than Baitullah, says Shah, but he is gaining in momentum and popularity among the local fighters.

The rift between Zainuddin and Baitullah dates back to March 2008. Assailants in the town of Tank killed Muhammad Yousaf, a prominent elder of the Shamenkhel subtribe and Zainuddin's uncle, The CSM reports.

The Taliban have been known to target tribal elders in an effort to seize power. Soon after, gunmen shot dead Baitullah's younger brother, Yahya Khan Mehsud.

Until this incident, Zainuddin had been a leading member of Baitullah's fighting force. Now tit-for-tat killings have sowed the seeds for a full-blown blood feud between the two men and their subtribes.

Baitullah warned his rival to "be ready for a bloody clash" after an April 15 deadline for surrender passed, in a message passed to Zainuddin through tribal elders. Such tough talk has become the norm between the two men, whose forces have clashed on and off over the past year, The CSM reports.

"Baitullah runs a terror network and a death squad. He has slaughtered up to 283 tribal elders who were opposing him and killed lot of religious leaders. Come forward, my clansmen, to force him out of the once peaceful South Waziristan, said a pamphlet distributed by Zainuddin's men lat month in Tank.

Shah says that Zainuddin has tried to pick away at Baitullah's Islamic credentials by asking how it's right to be fighting the Army of Pakistan, a Muslim nation. But it would be a mistake to see Zainuddin as some sort of moderate, argues Ijaz Khan, a professor of international relations at the University of Peshawar.

A Pakistani intelligence official estimates Zainuddin's strength at about 2,000 to 3,000 fighters, while Baitullah, who until recently had the support of 10,000 to 13,000, these days is losing men.

A head-on fight would create "unspeakable" trouble for Baitullah, says former ambassador to Afghanistan Rustam Shah Mohmand, because Zainuddin also enjoys greater support from the local population. (ANI)

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