Drone strike hits Pakistan peace bid
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider
KARACHI - The militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Sunday appointed Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, the head of its supreme shura, as temporary leader after the killing of its commander Hakimullah Mehsud in a suspected US drone strike. Five militants, including Abdullah Bahar Mehsud and Tariq Mehsud, both key militant commanders, were also killed with two others injured in the drone attack on Friday in North Waziristan.
The killing of 38-year-old Mehsud - after TTP leaders had met at a mosque near the administrative headquarters of North Waziristan
in Miranshah to discuss peace talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's administration - sparked condemnation from the Pakistani government, right-wing political parties and Islamist parties and groups.
Pakistan has summoned the US Ambassador Richard Olson to protest against the drone strike, saying the attack has destroyed the country's nascent peace process. Washington brushed that claim aside. A State Department official said that talks with the militants were an "internal matter for Pakistan".
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has attempted to open talks with the TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, to try to end a violent campaign that has left thousands of people dead in bombings and shootings and marred general elections this year. Some political parties demanded the administration of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to block US military supply lines into Afghanistan. The restive northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is one of two routes that international forces use to supply personnel in Afghanistan.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar on Saturday termed the killing of Mehsud as the "murder of peace" in the region and announced it would review Pakistan's cooperation with Washington in the war against terror.
"It is an attack on the peace process," Nisar said in the November 2 press conference. "Seven-week behind-the-scene efforts by us, where brick by brick we tried to roll a process for peace in our homeland, and what have you [the US] done? You [the US] reduced our weeks-long efforts to ashes hours before a delegation of respected ulema [Islamic scholars] was to leave for Miranshah and hand over a formal dialogue invitation to the Taliban."
Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) party, demanded the government block North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supplies transiting Pakistan. The PTI rules the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and Khan pledged to table resolutions to block NATO supplies in the National Assembly and the provincial assembly today.
The Pakistani Taliban secretly buried their leader early on Saturday amid fears that US drones might also attack his funeral if it was held in the open. The TTP is an umbrella group of factions allied to the Afghan Taliban. The militant group has not yet chosen a permanent replacement to Mehsud, who became the TTP's chief after the death of his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, in a US drone attack in 2009. In the same year, Hakimullah Mehsud orchestrated a suicide attack on a US base in Afghanistan in which seven American CIA employees were killed. He trained Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, whose attempted bomb attack on New York's Times Square was foiled in May 2010.
The drone strike came less than 24 hours after Sharif had said talks with the TTP leadership had been initiated. The Sharif government said Friday's attack throws its peace talk plans into disarray. Prime Minister Sharif was not in the country when the drone strike killed the Taliban commander. He returned to Pakistan from London where he was engaged in talks with British officials and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.
For its part, the Pakistani Taliban accused the Pakistani government of cutting a deal with Washington to "sell" the militants.
"We were waiting for a meeting, while the Pakistan army and government was sitting with the US finalizing deals to sell us." AFP reported Shahidullah Shahid, the TTP's main spokesman in a statement as saying. "Time will tell whether we take revenge of his martyrdom or not."
Some reports claim that the TTP vowed to carry out a wave of suicide bombs in revenge across Pakistan.
"Every drop of Hakimullah's blood will turn into a suicide bomber," Reuters reported Azam Tariq, a TTP spokesman as saying. "America and their friends shouldn't be happy because we will take revenge for our martyr's blood."
While the Pakistani government considers the killing of the Taliban leader a fatal blow to its efforts to stop violence in the country through dialogue, some political observers suggested the Pakistani authorities would be thankful to the US for killing the most wanted man whose hands were stained with the blood of thousands of innocent Pakistani civilians. The United States had a US$5 million bounty on Mehsud's head.
Daily Times in its editorial said:
The Pakistan government's reaction, as expressed by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar in a press conference on Saturday, seems to revolve around the narrative that this attack is a deliberate US attempt to sabotage the peace efforts that were poised to begin by a "facilitators" delegation on its way to meet Taliban representatives with a letter setting out the dialogue offer. Skeptics and critics, however, are doubtful that the government's claims hold water. Certainly, there was no indication so far that the TTP were willing to come to the negotiating table and in fact had set such unacceptable prior conditions such as release of all their prisoners and withdrawal of the army from FATA that indicated a lack of seriousness on their part. Theirs appeared to be a tactical position of fighting while creating the maximum confusion in the public's mind about the talks process.
Unfortunately large parts of our media too have been peddling this narrative of the peace talks being the best option, poised to take off, and offering a way out for Pakistan from a war many (including Chaudhry Nisar) argue is not theirs. To justify this line of argument, the government, Imran Khan and those sections of the media forget, and fail to remind their audience, of the trajectory whereby things have come to this pass.
It further said:
Just how delicate the juncture is, and could become, may become clear in the following days, but one fact is glaringly obvious. There are definite limits how far Pakistan can confront the US without severe damage to its interests, including economic and security aid, and perhaps worse. The need of the hour is not to get on our emotional high horse regarding "sovereignty" and "national honor" while claiming the US had committed, and violated, a promise to halt drone attacks during the peace efforts. A careful reading of the outcome of the prime minister's Washington visit does not uphold this wishful thinking.
Syed Fazl-e-Haider ( www.syedfazlehaider.com ) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan, published in May 2004. E-mail, email@example.com
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