A U.S.’ drone strike that killed Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud was an attack on the peace process, a top Pakistani government official said Saturday.
“The government of Pakistan does not see this drone attack as an attack on an individual, but as an attack on the peace process,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said.
“Either our comprehension is very limited or I am afraid the Americans have a lot to learn regarding what is happening in this part of the world,” he added in comments aired by the BBC.
Mr. Khan complained that on the one hand the United States articulates its support for the peace process in Pakistan and on the other it takes out the leader of the group with whom Pakistan is supposed to engage in discussions.
Mehsud was killed Friday, the day before the Pakistani government planned to send a delegation to explore peace talks with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to end a decade-old conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives.
Pakistani Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said earlier Saturday the government would not cease its efforts to seek a peace deal with the militants despite the attack.
“We had removed all hurdles in opening dialogue with the Taliban, and we will still try to build on that,” Rashid said.
It was not immediately known whether the Taliban was also interested in initiating a process of reconciliation.
A militant commander in the north-western town of Dera Ismail Khan said it was too early to say if the militia would still respond to government overtures.
Analysts said the future of the TTP and the proposed peace talks depend upon how well the new leader keeps the militia united.
“If the organization splits into many groups, it will not be easy for the government to deal with each one of them,” said Irfan Shehzad, lead researcher at an Islamabad-based think tank, the Institute of Policy Studies.
Intense infighting erupted within the Pakistani Taliban earlier Saturday about the nomination of new chief, members of the insurgent group said.
A shura, or council, of TTP first announced it had selected militant commander Khan Said Sajna as its new leader. However, that announcement was soon challenged by some groups within TTP.
Apparently a TTP meeting in Pakistan nominated Sajna, who is from the Laddah area of the South Waziristan tribal district, which is also near Afghanistan. However, a separate meeting in Afghanistan opposed the decision.
A militia commander said that the council would meet again to try and meet a decision, given the objections.
He said separate meetings were conducted to choose a new TTP leader in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in Nuristan province of Afghanistan, where some groups of Pakistani Taliban are in hiding.
Mehsud was buried Saturday, an official said. He had headed the banned TTP, a group of more than a dozen rebel outfits, since 2009.
He succeeded Baitullah Mehsud.
He and four other militants were killed when an unmanned aircraft fired four missiles at a compound in the Dande Darpa Khel area of the North Waziristan tribal district near the Afghan border.
A security official said the dead rebel leader and his associates were buried in different areas of the tribal region, but declined to give the exact locations.