The Pakistani Taliban has selected Khan Said Sajna as the insurgent group’s new leader after Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike, members of the organisation say.
Sajna is from a group within the Pakistani Taliban that was in favour of peace talks with the government.
He was a close associate of Baitullah Mehsud, the founder and former leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who was also killed by a drone in 2009.
A Taliban council picked the Mehsud tribesman as the new chief at a meeting at an undisclosed location in the tribal region on Saturday.
Hakimullah Mehsud was killed on Friday, one day before the government and the TTP were about to open peace talks after a decade of conflict.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said the government would not cease its efforts to seek a peace deal with the militants despite the US attack.
“We had removed all hurdles in opening dialogue with the Taliban, and we will still try to build on that,” Rashid said.
It was not immediately known whether the Taliban was also interested in initiating a process of reconciliation.
A militant commander in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan said it was too early to say if the militia would still respond to government overtures.
Analysts said the future of the TTP and the proposed peace talks depend upon how well the new leader keeps the militia united.
“If the organisation splits into many groups, it will not be easy for the government to deal with each one of them,” said Irfan Shehzad, lead researcher at an Islamabad-based think tank, the Institute of Policy Studies.
Pakistan’s government declared a red alert overnight after Hakimullah Mehsud’s killing out of fear of retaliatory attacks.
It ordered increased security around airports and other key installations.
The army was deployed on Saturday in all major cities near tribal areas after intelligence agencies warned that the TTP might launch improvised attacks to avenge the killing of their leader.
Hakimullah Mehsud was buried on Saturday, an official said.
He and four other militants were killed when an unmanned aircraft fired four missiles at a compound in the Dande Darpa Khel area of the North Waziristan tribal district near the Afghan border.
A security official said the dead rebel leader and his associates were buried in different areas of the tribal region but declined to give the exact locations.
Hakimullah Mehsud headed the banned TTP, a group of more than a dozen rebel outfits, since 2009. He succeeded Baitullah Mehsud.
Sajna hails from the Laddah area of the South Waziristan tribal district.