Pakistan summons US envoy in protest at killing of Taliban leader

Islamabad summons American ambassador, saying drone attack that killed leader of militant group scuttles efforts to launch peace talks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 7:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 7:02am

The Pakistani government summoned the US ambassador yesterday to protest at the drone strike that killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

The interior minister denounced the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud as a US bid to derail planned peace talks, while some lawmakers demanded the blocking of US supply lines into Afghanistan in retaliation.

"The murder of Hakimullah is the murder of all efforts at peace," said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar. "Americans said they support our efforts at peace. Is this support?"

The Pakistani foreign office said in a statement Mehsud's death was "counter-productive to Pakistan's efforts to bring peace and stability to Pakistan and the region".

Mehsud, who had a US$5 million US bounty on his head, and three others were killed on Friday in the militant stronghold of Miranshah in northwest Pakistan, Pakistani security officials and militants said.

His vehicle was hit after he attended a meeting of Taliban leaders, a Pakistani Taliban fighter said, adding that Mehsud's body was "damaged, but recognisable". His bodyguard and driver were also killed.

Mehsud was secretly buried under cover of darkness in the early hours by a few companions amid fears that his funeral might be attacked by US drones, militants and Pakistani security sources said.

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

Mehsud took over as leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban in 2009. The group's two previous leaders were killed in attacks by US drones.

Taliban commanders voted to replace him with the movement's No2, Khan Said, who is also known as Sajna. Said is believed to have masterminded an attack on a jail in northwest Pakistan that freed nearly 400 prisoners last year and a big attack on a Pakistani naval base.

But some commanders were unhappy with the choice and wanted more talks, several militants said, indicating divisions within the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of factions allied with the Afghan Taliban and battling the Pakistani state in the hope of imposing Islamist rule.

They have killed thousands of Pakistani civilians and numerous members of the security forces. They claimed the killing of an army general in September.

In Washington, two US officials also confirmed Mehsud's death in a CIA drone strike.

In 2010, Mehsud appeared in a farewell video with a Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees at a base in Afghanistan.

Despite Mehsud's reputation as an uncompromising militant commander, Pakistan's new government had promised to try to stop the violence through talks.

Shah Farman, a spokesman for the government of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said provincial legislators would pass a resolution tomorrow to cut Nato supply lines into landlocked Afghanistan. A main one passes through the nearby Khyber Pass.

The supply lines through US ally Pakistan have been crucial since the latest Afghan war began in 2001 and remain vital as the United States and other Western forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year.

Residents of Miranshah, the capital of the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, said Pakistani Taliban fighters were converging on the town and firing furiously at drones buzzing high in the sky.

About eight drones were seen overhead as well as a larger aircraft that seemed to be of a type that residents had not seen before.

"We thought it was a C-130 aircraft, but it was a special spy plane, bigger in size," resident Farhad Khan said by telephone from Miranshah.

"The militants fired from their anti-aircraft guns to hit it, but couldn't."

Shops and markets were open in the town. Residents said they were worried about a possible army offensive, but not Taliban reprisals. They expected the militants to launch attacks elsewhere in Pakistan.

"We feel the militants will show their reaction in major cities like they usually do," resident Assadullah Dawar.

In May, Mehsud's deputy was killed by a drone near where he died. Last month, one of his deputies was caught in Afghanistan.