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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Pakistan accuses US of 'scuttling' Taliban talks with drone strike, summons ambassador

Pakistan accuses US of 'scuttling' Taliban talks with drone strike, summons ambassadorA Pakistani policeman searches a vehicle along a street in Peshawar on November 2, 2013 following the killing of Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone attack in the Pakistan tribal region (AFP Photo / A Majeed) A Pakistani policeman searches a vehicle along a street in Peshawar on November 2, 2013 following the killing of Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone attack in the Pakistan tribal region (AFP Photo / A Majeed)


The Pakistani government has accused the US of "scuttling" efforts towards peace talks with the Taliban after their militant leader was killed in a "counter-productive” drone strike on Friday. The US ambassador has been summoned over the issue.
"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?" Pakistan's Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar, Ali Khan said. "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."

He said that following Friday's drone attack "every aspect" of cooperation with Washington would be reviewed.
"The government of Pakistan does not see this drone attack as an attack on an individual but as an attack on the peace process," Khan said.
On Saturday the Taliban has elected Khan Said Sajna aka Khalid as the next chief of the militant group.
Khan Said Sajna aka Khalid has been appointed by the Taliban's Shura Council after 43 out of 60 members voted in favor of the second-in-command to replace Mehsud. 17 others voted against him, militant sources told the Pakistani Dawn News newspaper.

However, the election has not yet been confirmed by several splinter groups of the militant organization.

The council was initially considering four names for the post - Khan Said, Umar Khalid Khurasani, Mullah Fazlullah and Ghalib Mehsud.

Not much is known about the Taliban’s new chief. Sajna, 36, was the South Waziristan Taliban chief and was responsible for TTP operations in the region. He used to be a trusted lieutenant of Mehsud.

Said is believed to have masterminded an attack on a jail in north-west Pakistan that freed nearly 400 prisoners in 2012 and an attack on a Pakistani air force base in the same year.

“Sajna has no basic education, conventional or religious, but he is battle-hardened and has experience of fighting in Afghanistan,” an unnamed official, earlier cited by local Dawn News.

A spokesman for the Taliban in South Waziristan, Azam Tariq, declined to say whether ‘Sajna’ had been chosen to lead the TTP umbrella group, the Dawn reports. A formal announcement will be made in the coming days, the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Taliban fighters have vowed a wave of suicide bombs in revenge for the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud.

"Every drop of Hakimullah's blood will turn into a suicide bomber,"
 Tariq said. "America and their friends shouldn't be happy because we will take revenge for our martyr's blood."

Mehsud, who had a $5 million US bounty on his head and was believed to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, has been secretly buried along with the four others killed - his bodyguard, driver, uncle and a commander, AFP reports referring to a senior Taliban source.

He had been reported dead several times before. In February 2010, multiple sources said he had died after being hit in a drone strike in Pakistan, and in April that year reports that he was alive surfaced. In May 2010, he appeared in a video, vowing attacks on major US cities.

Mehsud became leader of the Pakistani Taliban in 2009, aged 30, after the group’s leader Baitullah Mehsud died in a US drone strike in South Waziristan.

Seen as a hardliner, Hakimullah Mehsud supervised some of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) most high-profile attacks. He is said to be behind the attempt to kill schoolgirl education activist, Malala Yousafzai, in October last year. 

‘Counter-productive killing’

Pakistan’s government has “strongly condemned the US drone strike” and called it “counter-productive”. 
The killing of Mehsud has cast doubt over proposed peace talks between the Pakistani government and the militant group. 
“It makes the peace dialogue process with the Taliban difficult. Now that Mehsud’s been killed, they won’t be prepared to have a dialogue with us any longer. So how can we carry on with it?” one of the locals has told the media. 
However, the country’s Information Minister gave assurances in a statement that the attack will not delay peace talks. 
“The US has tried to attack the peace talks with this drone but we will not let them fail," Pervez Rashid told media, referring to the negotiations, which the Taliban said on Friday had yet to start. 
In response to the attack local tribesmen opened fire on a US drone over Pakistan's tribal belt, where Hakimullah Mehsud was killed. 
"Tribesmen and militants were firing with light and heavy guns for an hour," Tariq Khan, a shopkeeper in Miranshah was cited by AFP. "Local people are scared. The death of Hakimullah Mehsud has created uncertainty. Everyone is talking about Taliban revenge," Khan said.