x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Pakistan says US drone strike “scuttled” Taliban peace talks

Islamabad says drone strike that killed Hakimullah Mehsud derailed first step towards peace talks with Taliban, summons ambassador to protest.

Protesters shout anti-US slogans in Multan on Saturday after the killing of the Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone attack a day earlier. S S Mirza / AFP
Protesters shout anti-US slogans in Multan on Saturday after the killing of the Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone attack a day earlier. S S Mirza / AFP

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan yesterday accused the United States of “scuttling” efforts towards peace talks with the Taliban by killing the militants’ leader in a drone strike.

The foreign minister, Chaudhry Nisar, said “every aspect” of Pakistan’s cooperation with Washington would be reviewed following Friday’s drone attack that killed Hakimullah Mehsud in the country’s tribal north-west.

Mr Nisar said a team of clerics was hours away from setting off to meet the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as the Pakistani Taliban calls itself, with a view to starting peace talks when Mehsud was killed.

“Brick by brick in the last seven weeks we tried to evolve a process by which we could bring peace to Pakistan and what have you [the US] done?” he told a news conference.

“You have scuttled it on the eve, 18 hours before a formal delegation of respected ulema [religious scholars] was to fly to Miranshah and hand over this formal invitation.”

Mr Nisar said the identity of those killed in the drone strike was “irrelevant”.

“The government of Pakistan does not see this drone attack as an attack on an individual but as an attack on the peace process,” he said.

The foreign ministry said it had summoned the US ambassador, Richard Olson, to protest over the drone strike that killed Mehsud and another that hit a day earlier.

The ministry statement also stressed that despite the drone strike the government was “determined to continue with efforts to engage the TTP”.

Islamabad routinely condemns drone strikes as a violation of sovereignty but Mr Nisar’s criticism of the US was unusually forthright. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged President Barack Obama to end them during White House talks last week, but summoning the ambassador is an unusual step.

Mehsud’s death is the third major blow struck against the TTP by the US this year, following the killing of number two Waliur Rehman in a drone strike in May and the capture of another senior lieutenant in Afghanistan last month.

A senior Taliban commander, Azam Tariq, accused the Pakistani government of running a “dual policy”, supporting the US and at the same time saying it wants talks.

“Taliban will not talk with Pakistan until drone strikes are stopped,” he said.

Opposition parties accused the US of using the drone strike to stymie the peace process before talks proper had even started.

The former Pakistan cricketer Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehrek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party that rules in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said the strike had “sabotaged” peace talks and showed the US did not want peace in Pakistan.

PTI said it would call an emergency session of the provincial assembly to block Nato supply convoys passing through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on their way to Afghanistan.

Pakistan blocked all Nato supply routes through its territory for seven months in 2012 in protest at a botched US air raid that killed 24 soldiers.

For the US, Mehsud’s death will represent a success for the CIA’s drone programme at a time when it is under intense scrutiny over civilian casualties.

The killing has prompted fears of TTP reprisals, as happened after the death of founder Baitullah Mehsud in 2009.

Mehsud became TTP leader after a power struggle following Baitullah’s death in a drone strike in August 2009

His death was widely reported in 2010 but he resurfaced in a video taunting the West and vowing more attacks on US targets.

The TTP has risen to become arguably the biggest security threat facing Pakistan. It was behind the 2008 bombing of the Islamabad Marriott hotel and the attempt to kill schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai last year.

The TTP also claimed the 2010 Times Square bomb plot after training Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad.