November 5, 2013
Living up to its reputation built over the last few years, the United States again sabotaged Pakistan’s proposed talks with the Taliban with a drone attack that killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the chief of Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella for over three dozen militant groups based in FATA (the federally administered tribal areas) and held responsible for terrorism inside Pakistan.
Last month, all political parties in Pakistani parliament had authorized government to negotiate with TTP to restore peace in the country. A country which has suffered devastation over the last eight years after TTP declared war against the Pakistan Army which launched a U.S.-propelled military operation in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan in 2004 to flush out al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
This was not the first time a U.S. drone killed a TTP top commander on the eve of negotiations which Islamabad was holding to restore peace. Washington has been sabotaging peace talks with the TTP by killing its commanders in drone hits just before and after they struck peace deals with Islamabad over the last eight years. The killing of Hakimullah Mehsud also produced the results Washington had desired – TTP decided to revoke peace talks with Islamabad.
A TTP spokesman warned that, "America and their friends shouldn’t be happy because we will take revenge for our martyr’s blood." The TTP Shura (consultative body) appointed Maulvi Ismatullah Shaheen as interim head of TTP after Mehsud’s death.
The recent U.S. drone attack has given a fresh impetus to the anti-Pakistan sentiments among tribal people. They have already been simmering with hatred of Pakistan as they view Islamabad an abettor of all U.S. war crimes in the tribal regions, including drone attacks, bombardment by Pakistani army and air force planes, house raids, arrests etc. The drones have been the biggest source of terrorism in Pakistan as drone survivors have no access to Washington but they try to avenge the deaths of their kith and kin within Pakistan.
In a brief response made with calculated words, the Pakistani Foreign Office termed Mehsud’s killing as an attack on the country’s sovereignty. Strangely, Pakistani politicians, the government and armed forces were found to be on different pages in response to the killing of the TTP chief that stalled the peace talks.
The most heated response came from cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who called for the blocking of a NATO supply line. Imran is the chief of Pakistan Tehrik Insaf (PTI), the party which is heading the coalition government in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KPK) province, whose territories included the FATA region.
Imran, who has been strongly demanding Islamabad quit the U.S. war and hold peace talks with the Taliban for the last few years, announced that the NATO supply route in KPK would be blocked at all costs, even if it costs his party the KPK government. Imran also staged token sit-in protests on the NATO supply routes a couple of years back to press the government to block supplies.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Choudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who has been tasked by the government to lead the peace talks with TTP, accused the U.S. of double-crossing Pakistan after the U.S. ambassador to Islamabad assured him that U.S. would support dialogue with TTP and would halt drone attacks during the dialogue process. Nisar said his government viewed this drone strike as not on an individual, but on the peace process, since Islamabad’s delegation was scheduled to meet TTP representatives the day after Mehsud’s killing.
Nisar warned of reviewing relations with the U.S. following this drone hit. He said the U.S. ambassador had also assured Islamabad that there would be no attacks on Pakistani territory before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Washington for talks last month. He reiterated that Pakistan had paid the heaviest price for the U.S. war on terror.
But Pakistan’s information minister, Senator Pervez Rasheed, avoided making a direct comment on Mehsud’s killing. He parried a number of queries from newsmen, and cautiously said his government would not allow the dialogue process to be killed by the drone attack. Despite being the spokesman of the government, his comments appeared disinterested with the prevailing situation; as if he wanted to say that the chief of the TTP was not that important to the government.
When media repeatedly asked him why his government was not raising issue of drone attacks with Washington, Pervaiz Rasheed said: "the U.S. has always been sticking to its original stance on drone attacks." Regarding Imran Khan’s threat to block NATO supplies, he said: "Drone attacks will not cease even after blocking NATO supplies. The Americans did not stop drone attacks when NATO supplies were blocked for many months following the NATO attack on the Salala check post killing 26 Pakistani soldiers." He said this fact must be kept in mind by all those talking of blocking NATO supplies.
On the other hand, a former spokesman of the Pakistan army who retired a few months back minced no words to express satisfaction with Hakimullah’s death. Talking to media, the former spokesman of Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] called Hakimullah an enemy of the state, who carried a bounty of 50 million rupees. He was of the view that the U.S. actually facilitated Pakistan getting rid of one of his top enemies.
The views of the former army spokesman belied the unanimous demand for negotiations with the Taliban, as decided by all shades of the country’s political forces and the army leadership. Common Pakistanis still wonder if rulers and armed forces consider the blatant U.S. drone attacks a violation of their country’s sovereignty, if Islamabad has any left that is.
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar