The Guardian, 1/11/13
Pakistan is to review its relationship with Washington, the prime minister’s office said on Sunday, following the killing of the Pakistani Taliban leader in a US drone strike. Hakimullah Mehsud, who had a $5m (£3.1m) bounty on his head, was killed on Friday in the north-western Pakistani militant stronghold of North Waziristan, near the Afghan border. The Pakistani Taliban have killed thousands of civilians and members of the security forces in their bid to impose Islamist rule, but the new government has been calling for peace talks.
The government denounced Mehsud’s killing as a US bid to derail the talks and summoned the US ambassador on Saturday to complain. The office of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said he would chair a meeting on the consequences for ties with Washington, but there was no indication when it might take place. Some politicians have demanded that US military supply lines into Afghanistan be blocked in response.
“It is clear that the US is against peace and does not want terrorism to subside. Now we only have one agenda, to stop Nato supplies going through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” said Asad Qaiser, the speaker of the province’s assembly. Pakistan is the main supply route for US troops in Afghanistan, for everything from food and drinking water to fuel, and the closure of the routes could cause serious disruption as US and other western forces prepare to withdraw by the end of next year.
Pakistani co-operation is also seen as vital in trying to bring peace to Afghanistan, in particular in encouraging the Afghan Taliban into talks with the government in Kabul. Relations between Washington and Islamabad have been seriously strained several times over recent years, most notably in 2011, when US forces killed Osama bin Laden in a raid that Pakistan said violated its sovereignty.
Pakistan, however, depends to a great extent on US economic support, and despite frustrations in Washington over the relationship, the US is unlikely to break completely with its nuclear-armed ally. Three Pakistani Taliban commanders said they had been due to meet a government delegation on Saturday and that they had been meeting to discuss the talks. They said they felt betrayed by Mehsud’s killing and were no longer interested in talks.
A Pakistani Taliban spokesman promised a wave of revenge bombings. Allied militant groups are also planning attacks, said Ahmed Marwat, a spokesman for the Jundullah militant group. The group recently killed more than 80 people when it bombed a church, and is known for major attacks on civilian targets.Mehsud’s followers have been debating who should replace him while they observe three days of mourning, said Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban. They have in the meantime appointed Asmatullah Shaheen as interim leader.
Several commanders said on Saturday that 38-year-old Khan Said, known as Sajna, had been chosen, but other factions of the Pakistani Taliban alliance were unhappy with the choice and were supporting other candidates. These include Mullah Fazlullah, the commander from the Swat Valley, north-west of Islamabad, whose men shot and wounded the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai last year. Said is seen as a relative moderate and his appointment might facilitate talks with the government, said Imtiaz Gul, the head of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, an Islamabad-based thinktank.
But if Fazlullah is chosen, there would be little hope of compromise, he said. Even if talks started, it was unclear how successful they would be unless the government made significant concessions to the militants.
“You’re compromising the rule of law, and ceding ground to non-state actors, giving in to a small band of criminals. It threatens everything on which Pakistan stands – the constitution, parliament,” Gul said. “They haven’t thought through the consequences of these talks. They’re just firefighting because they have no long-term remedy for Pakistan’s problems.” Some in Pakistan’s powerful military have privately voiced their opposition to any potential talks.