Pakistan divided over US drone killing of Taliban chief | Asia Pacific

Pakistan divided over US drone killing of Taliban chief

Pakistan divided over US drone killing of Taliban chief

Updated 4 November 2013, 14:27 AEST

The Pakistani Taliban have selected Khan Syed Mehsud as the insurgent group's new leader, after Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike last week.

Hakimullah Mehsud was considered a major target by the US, having helped mastermind the single deadliest strike against the CIA in 25 years, when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a base in Afghanistan in 2009, killing seven American agents.

Pakistan has accused the US of derailing peace talks with the Taliban, because of the drone strike.

The Taliban have vowed to revenge the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, one of Pakistan's most-wanted men.'

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speakers: Chaudhry Nisar, Pakistan's Interior minister; Farahnaz Ispahani, former Pakistani presidential adviser and member of parliament; Ms Ispahani is also public policy scholar at the Wilson Research Centre in Washington DC

"First and foremost, the government of Pakistan does not see this drone attack as an attack on an individual, but as an attack on the peace process. How did they expect on the one hand, they articulate their support for the peace process in Pakistan, and on the other, they take out the leader of the group with whom we're supposed to engage in this discussion. Either there's something we don't understand, either our comprehension is very limited, or I'm afraid, the Americans have a lot of learn regarding what is happening in this part of the world." - Chaudhry Nisar, Interior Minister of Pakistan.

ISPAHANI: Firstly, the Pakistan government has had a bounty of 600-thousand dollars, which was announced in 2009, two months after his ascension to the leadership of the Tehreek-E-Taliban Pakistan. That bounty was never removed. The US government also had a bounty of five million dollars on his death. Now, whereas the Pakistani Interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and the Opposition leader Imran Khan have asserted that it has damaged talks.

Frankly, after he took over the Pakistani Taliban, two major things happened which are important to know. Many more suicide bombings happened under his command within Pakistan in which both civilians and Pakistan military were targeted and he also created much closer ties with other Al-Qaeda links too. So I would say the Pakistan government is clearly divided - on one hand, Prime minister Nawaz Sharif is reported to have discussed Hakimullah with US officials on his recent trip, on the other hand, the Pakistan military has wanted him dead for some time now. He had acknowledged having killed several hundred Pakistani soldiers, ISI intelligence officers and recently, a major-general of the Pakistan military. Liberal Pakistanis, Shia muslims and Christians were also targeted ruthlessly, and so these communities are also heave a sigh of relief at this death.

But the point is, this is not about drones. This is about the death of a terrorist who killed Pakistani civilians, who took the Pakistani Taliban into much-closer ties with Al-Qaeda. So I would say the response in Pakistan is mixed.

LAM: Well, the Pakistani Taliban has quite swiftly chosen a new leader, Khan Syed Mehsud. What might we expect of a Pakistani Taliban under his leadership?

ISPAHANI: We don't know yet. You know, it depends very much if they're going to continue in Hakimullah's footsteps. The fact that Hakimullah got involved with raids on both sides and killings on both sides of these two borders, not just Pakistan. The CIA based in host Afghanistan, we must not forget, was attacked under his watch. So at this point, it would be premature to comment.

LAM: So we don't know if he's likely to embrace a culture of dialogue, to replace the violent activities of his predecessor?

ISPAHANI: Correct, and also, when the Interior minister of Pakistan talks about talks, but Hakimullah Mehsud said that the government keeps talking about talks but they're not doing anything about the talks. So to assert, that somehow the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud has derailed talks, the reality is that there were no talks.

LAM: Be that as it may, the Interior minister of Pakistan has said that every aspect of Pakistan's cooperation with Washington would be reviewed. What do you think he meant by that?

ISPAHANI: Well, as I said, the Interior minister has made this assertion, we have not heard this from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. We have not heard anything from the Pakistani military or the intelligence services, even privately within Pakistan. So, as of now, it seems like he and Imran Khan are voicing their anger and their frustration. So I cannot say that he's speaking on behalf of the government at this point, because the government is clearly divided.

LAM: Well, that makes it very difficult for Washington to deal with Islamabad, does it not?

ISPAHANI: I believe that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was reported to have discussed Hakimullah with US officials on his recent to the United States. So, to say that because the Interior minister has said so, that this is going to lead to a parting of the waves between the United States and Pakistan, over the death of a terrorist who killed many, many Pakistanis, I think that it's very far-fetched at this point, to take it to that point.

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