PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A senior leader of the Pakistani Taliban announced Saturday that a brash young commander with a reputation for pitiless violence appeared to have won the struggle to lead the group — even as the government wrestles with conflicting information about whether that commander is even alive.
Intelligence officials in Pakistan say that the newly proclaimed leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, is dead. But Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, said Saturday in an interview that he was alive, although gravely injured, and that Taliban fighters were desperately searching for his younger brother as a stand-in.
Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, deputy commander of the group, had proclaimed himself successor to Baitullah Mehsud just a few days ago. But on Saturday he told reporters by telephone that the much younger and more aggressive Hakimullah Mehsud would be the insurgency’s new leader.
“I am abdicating the leadership of the Tehrik-e-Taliban in the larger interests of the movement,” said Mr. Faqir Muhammad, the group’s leader from the Bajaur tribal region.
He acknowledged the confusion about who was actually running the Pakistani Taliban, an insurgency with close links to Al Qaeda. The group’s top leaders have been feuding over control of its vast assets, including cash and weaponry.
“There were a few problems on certain issues last week,” he acknowledged. “But those issues have been resolved.”
Although Mr. Faqir Muhammad was the second in command, he does not have roots in South Waziristan, the heartland of the Pakistani Taliban, which would have made it harder for him to take the helm. Hakimullah Mehsud, however, is from the Shabi Khel branch of the Mehsud tribe, as was the group’s former leader.
Mr. Faqir Muhammad said that a 42-member council met in Orakzai, one of Pakistan’s separately administered tribal areas, and that it unanimously endorsed Hakimullah Mehsud as the new leader of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Hakimullah Mehsud once served as a driver of the former Taliban leader and was considered very close to him. Aggressive and violent, the young militant commander was widely considered likely to succeed his mentor.
Mr. Malik, the interior minister, compared Hakimullah Mehsud to Idi Amin, the bloodthirsty former Ugandan military dictator.
“He has the same personality traits,” Mr. Malik said. “He will pull out a gun and kill his own people.”
But even the government cannot agree on whether Mr. Mehsud is alive or not. Pakistan’s intelligence services continue to believe that Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a shootout after a brawl with another contender for the top slot at a meeting soon after Baitullah Mehsud’s death.
“He is dead and there is no question about it,” a senior security official said.
Indeed, the government has yet to put fully to rest questions about whether even Baitullah Mehsud really is dead because it has not been able to produce convincing evidence.
Mr. Faqir Muhammad insisted that the elder Mr. Mehsud was alive, but that he had gone into seclusion for health reasons.
Security officials said Mr. Faqir Muhammad’s announcement of the appointment was not a sure sign that the infighting over succession was over.
“The announcement is just a fillip and a ruse to gain enough time to allow the T.T.P. to regain control of the leadership,” one official said, referring to Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan.
Ismail Khan reported from Peshawar, and Lydia Polgreen from Islamabad, Pakistan.