Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told the media on Saturday that Pakistan believes that the drone strike that killed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud was a deliberate attempt by the United States to foil the Pakistan government’s attempt to broker peace with the militants.
“Brick by brick in the last seven weeks we tried to evolve a process to bring peace to Pakistan and what have you done? You have scuttled [that] on the eve of the day and 18 hours before a delegation of respected religious leaders was to fly out to Miranshah and hand over a formal invitation on the venue and other issues concerned to the TTP,” he said.
The Minister said the government would review its relation and level of cooperation with the U.S. once Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned from London. “Every aspect of U.S.-Pakistan cooperation will be discussed and reviewed.”
He did not confirm if the government would consider blocking NATO supplies as cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s party has threatened to do.
However, the Minister said that even at this stage a 100 per cent confirmation of the exact number of people, and the entities, killed in the drone strikes was not available. Confirmations were made through indirect sources and it would be unfair to ask the government at this stage and speculate, Mr. Khan said. “Based on the reports of the people who were present there, the reports in the press are fairly accurate.”
Official sources said the government was waiting for security agencies to confirm Mehsud’s death as reports of his being killed in the past have proved false.
Mr. Chaudhry called the drone strike a murder of the peace process and added that the government of Pakistan sees this incident, not as an attack on an individual but as an assault on the peace process. It was irrelevant to debate who the individual was or who was with him, the Minister said. “This is a death of peace not the death of individual, they have ambushed peace by this action,” he said.
The new democratic government tried to make some sense of the situation and initiated a dialogue with the TTP. “What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander — if the dialogue process is good for the U.S. in Afghanistan, why is the peace process with TTP not relevant for Pakistan?” Mr. Khan asked.
Demarche on U.S. Ambassador
The government has served a demarche on the U.S. Ambassador. Even though the U.S. publicly supports peace talks with TTP, it sabotaged the peace process, the Minister alleged. “U.S. has done this to disrupt peace talks, so that this is not successful and we believe this is a major incident.”
Pakistan ambassadors will contact the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to convey the strong views of the government on the matter and make it clear to them that the drone attacks are a question of the sovereignty of the people of Pakistan and not the government alone.
The U.S, Mr. Khan said, had plenty of opportunities to kill Mehsud since he crossed the border so many times. “Four months earlier you weren’t interested in him but now you say if he comes in your sights you won’t spare him. You didn’t even take his name earlier.” Even the Taliban had lost innocent people — their children, elders and women have died in drone strikes — and lakhs were left homeless, he said.
The Minister said he had repeatedly conveyed to top U.S. representatives here that if drone attacks didn’t cease, there would be a standoff between the two countries. Pakistan had also dissuaded the U.S. from targeting Mehsud as targeting the TTP would show that America had no interest in peace. There was even an understanding that this would not happen, Mr. Khan said.
However, U.S. representatives reportedly said it would be difficult to spare the Pakistan Taliban chief if he was found.
“After Mr. Sharif’s meeting with President Obama, a statement was issued that the U.S. supported the peace process with the Taliban, but on a day before regular consultations are scheduled to start you take out the leader who was to engage with us. Is this your support for the peace process?”
The entire Pakistan government was working for peace and even the Army Chief had said he was suspending routine troop movements in North Waziristan so that there was no suspicion of a military operation, the Minister pointed out.The TTP primarily consists of 37 groups, but there are several other small groups.