ISLAMABAD // Missiles from a suspected US drone aircraft killed up to 20 militants in a Pakistani region on the Afghan border today, officials said, hours before Afghan and Pakistani tribal and political leaders met to discuss peace. Violence has surged in both Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent months, raising fears about the future for both countries at the heart of the US-led global campaign against terror.
The violence has strained ties between the US allies Afghanistan and Pakistan, with Afghanistan complaining Pakistan has not done enough to stop Taliban fighters infiltrating from sanctuaries in its north-western Pashtun lands. Deteriorating Afghan security has frustrated the United States and led to a string of US strikes on militant targets in Pakistan, angering Islamabad, which says the attacks bolster support for Islamist militants.
The violence in Pakistan has also unnerved investors and exacerbated an economic crisis which is expected to force the country to seek International Monetary Fund help within days. The latest suspected US missile strikes were on two houses in the town of Shakai in South Waziristan, in a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. "They were very accurate. The missiles struck rooms where the guests were having dinner. None survived," a militant said by telephone. "We've recovered 20 bodies," said the militant, who declined to be identified.
The Pentagon said it had no information on the drone strike. Mehsud is Pakistan's most notorious militant commander, blamed for a string of suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan and the assassination of the former prime minster Benazir Bhutto last year. He also supports Taliban militants battling US-led forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan officials said a low-level Pakistani Taliban commander who had links with veteran Afghan militant commander Jalaluddin Haqqani was killed in the strike.
Also killed were some foreign militants who had attended the funeral of a younger brother of Mehsud, Yahya Mehsud, an intelligence official said. The younger Mehsud, who was not a member of his brother's militant group, was shot by unidentified gunmen at the weekend.
Later today, political and ethnic Pashtun tribal leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan began a two-day jirga, or traditional council, to discuss ways to end the violence, including the possibility of talks with the Taliban. "Our agenda is to have contacts with the opposition to the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan and to find their point of view and create an environment for dialogue," said Mohammad Ibrahim, a Pashtun member of a Pakistani religious party.
Both Pakistan and Afghanistan say they are ready to talk to militants who lay down arms but the US is wary of peace efforts, saying short-lived Pakistani pacts over the past few years had only given the militants breathing space. *Reuters