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Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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November 2, 2013

Killing of Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud in drone attack
described as a fatal blow to peace process

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Killing of Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud in drone attack is described as a fatal blow to peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Talibans.

Hakimullah Mehsud, who had a $5 million US government bounty on him, was killed Friday along with three other Taliban leaders when a US drone fired two missiles at a vehicle in a compound in the village of Dandey Darpakhel, five kilometres north of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan.

Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan Saturday said the death of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader, Hakimullah Mehsud was in fact a fatal blow to the peace process in the region.

 “The identity of those killed in the drone strike was "irrelevant". The strike should not be viewed as the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, but rather as the murder of the peace process”, he told a press conference in Islamabad.

 The interior minister also revealed that this news conference had been originally scheduled to announce a major development with regard to peace talks.  "Had Mehsud not been killed I would have been making an announcement that a three member delegation comprising Ulema (religious leaders) was on its way to Taliban so that they could be formally invited for negotiations."

On the other hand, Federal Information Minister Pervez Rashid told reporters in Islamabad that the government wanted to press ahead with its plan to negotiate with Mehsud’s Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). “We can say that this time drone struck the peace talks but we will not let the peace talks die.”

Rashid said Pakistan was committed to peace through talks despite losing 40,000-50,000 civilians, soldiers, and police to militant violence. “So I am sure that the other party will show the same spirit which we had shown,” he said.

The killing of Hakimullah Mehsud came one day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in London that talks have started with the Pakistani Taliban. Sharif was elected in part by promising to negotiate with militants in the country's northwest who have killed thousands of civilians and security forces.

Opposition politician Imran Khan condemned the drone strike as an attempt to “sabotage” peace efforts, and called for the federal government to block Nato supplies going through the country.

Imran said the US is sabotaging efforts to establish peace in Pakistan by drone strikes in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. “Whenever the initiatives of peace talks are taken, US drone strikes sabotage them,” he said. The PTI chief said his party would table resolutions for blocking Nato supplies in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and the National Assembly.

Pakistan government condemns the drone attack

Not surprisingly, strongly condemning the US drone attack in North Waziristan, the Pakistani government reiterated that these strikes are a violation of the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Foreign Office Spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry in a statement said there was an across the board consensus in Pakistan that these drone strikes must end.

He said the government has consistently maintained that drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications. Such strikes also set dangerous precedents in bilateral relations, he added.

The spokesman said these strikes have a negative impact on the mutual desire of both US and Pakistan to forge a cordial and cooperative relationship and to ensure peace and stability in the region.

Pakistan on Saturday summoned US ambassador to Islamabad, Richard Olson and lodged its protest over the US drone strike that killed Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud. According to Foreign Office spokesman, Pakistan handed over to Richard Olson a letter protesting against the recent US drone attack that took out Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and his aides.

Pakistan-US agreement on drone attacks

Tellingly, the Pakistan government has adopted a contradictory stand on the US drone attacks in Pakistan's volatile tribal belt. While publicly it strongly condemns the drone attacks but secretly it approves the drone strikes.

During Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Washington last month, top-secret CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos on Pakistan-US agreement on drones were leaked to the Washington Post. According to the documents, despite repeatedly denouncing the CIA’s drone campaign, top officials in Pakistan’s government have for years secretly endorsed the program and routinely received classified briefings on strikes and casualty counts.

The Washington Post said that Pakistan’s tacit approval of the drone program has been one of the more poorly kept national security secrets in Washington and Islamabad. During the early years of the campaign, the CIA even used Pakistani airstrips for its Predator fleet.

"But the files expose the explicit nature of a secret arrangement struck between the two countries at a time when neither was willing to publicly acknowledge the existence of the drone program. The documents detailed at least 65 strikes in Pakistan and were described as “talking points” for CIA briefings, which occurred with such regularity that they became a matter of diplomatic routine. The documents are marked “top secret” but cleared for release to Pakistan."

Interestingly, a statement issued after the talks between President Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not mention the drone attacks issue.

Government slammed for giving incorrect figures on drone killings  

Central Information Secretary Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and member of the National Assembly, Shireen Mazari, has strongly criticized the government and the Interior Minister for giving what are clearly incorrect figures on drone killings.

She was commenting on the Ministry of Defense figures released to lawmakers saying that 67 civilians were among 2,227 people killed in 317 drone strikes since 2008.

While the UN and international NGOs have claimed a high killing rate of civilians in US drone strikes, the present government is giving figures, which do not tally with any independent assessments. For instance, Mazari pointed to an Amnesty Report, which had concluded that at least 19 civilians were killed in just two drone strikes in 2012, including a woman in North Waziristan who was in a field with her grandchildren.

But the new official Pakistani figures stated that no civilians were killed in North Waziristan in 2012 or this year. Yet the surviving family members of this family gave their account of the drone killings to Congress just as the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar was deceiving the people of Pakistan.

Mazari said it is absolutely unacceptable to find such brazen complicity on the part of the government with the US when there is a national consensus against drones and the murder of civilians. The Peshawar High Court judgment of May 2013 not only declared drones illegal under a number of international laws but also termed these as a war crime. Mazari pointed out that the Peshawar High Court in its judgment cited that 3000 Pakistani civilians had died in drone attacks between 2004-2013.

PTI demands the government reveal the true figures of civilian deaths due to drones, identify all the victims by name and implement the PHC resolution. “The callous disregard for the lives of Pakistanis living in FATA is indeed shameful as is the continuing covert collusion between the Pakistani state and the US over drones. This shows where the loyalties of the government lie and it is a clear violation of Article 9 of the Constitution,” Mazari added.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net).