Monday 19 March 2018

Pakistan hits out at US for killing leader of Taliban

Hopes of peace 'murdered' after drone strike

Andrew Buncombe

Pakistan has accused the US of "murdering the hopes of peace" after the leader of the Taliban was killed by a CIA drone strike on the eve of a meeting between militants and representatives of the government.

The country's security forces were placed on high alert when the Taliban vowed to carry out a series of revenge attacks after Hakimullah Mehsud was killed at a compound at Dande Darpa Khel in north Waziristan. The body of the 34-year-old was hastily buried and various Taliban groups reportedly met yesterday to select a new leader.

Reports said that Mehsud had returned to his compound in the remote tribal areas after meeting other militants at a nearby mosque when four missiles struck on Friday morning. Five or six other suspected militants were killed in the strike, including his uncle, cousin and personal bodyguard.

Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was elected earlier this year, having said he wanted to start talks with the Taliban as a means to end militant violence and publicly urged the US to end drone strikes.

On Thursday, while in London, he said initial contact had been made and yesterday several Muslim clerics, acting as intermediaries, were to have met Taliban fighters on behalf of the government.

Instead, a series of government ministers denounced the US attack that killed the Taliban leader.

Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar said the government believed that the US was responsible for the "murder of peace in this area".

He claimed that the entire relationship between Washington and Islamabad would now be reviewed.

"The government of Pakistan does not see this strike as a strike on an individual, but on the peace process," he said.

"Americans said they support our efforts at peace. Is this support?"

Tariq Azim, a spokesman for Mr Sharif, said that the government hoped the talks process would continue once the Taliban agreed upon a new leader. However, he added: "This has put the talks in jeopardy, no doubt."

Asked if he believed the CIA strike had been intentionally timed, he replied: "There is a strong feeling in Pakistan that every time there is a process of talks, something like this happens. This has been extremely unhelpful."

The fatal attack on Mehsud, who took charge of the Taliban in 2009 after the previous two leaders were also killed in drone strikes, has created an intensely difficult situation for Mr Sharif.

Last month, in a visit to Washington, he repeated his request for an end to the drone strikes.

At the same time, there is a wide agreement that Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies co-operate with the US on at least some of the strikes and may even provide targeting information.

Inside Pakistan, there is a sizeable constituency opposed to Mr Sharif's policy of negotiating with the Taliban.

The Taliban leader was on a US most-wanted list, with a $5m reward offered for his capture or killing. He was believed to have been behind a suicide attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan and a failed car bombing in Times Square in New York.

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