Outrage In Pakistan After U.S. Drone Strike Kills Taliban Leader

Nov 5, 2013
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In Pakistan, there is outrage after last week's U.S. drone strike that killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. That outrage may seem puzzling since Hakimullah Mehsud was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians, but U.S. military action in Pakistan is always a hugely sensitive subject and the relationship between the two countries is fraught with tension. For more on why the Pakistani Taliban leader is being seen as a victim, not the enemy, we turn to Gibran Peshimam. He's political editor for The Express Tribune in Karachi.

GIBRAN PESHIMAM: After two days of analyzing the so-called grief over Hakimullah's death, we've come to the conclusion that it's not so much - in fact, not at all to do with his death, but the fact that the United States killed him. And not only the United States killed him, they killed him in a manner that is being heavily debated here in Pakistan. That is the use of drones.

Now, if Pakistan had killed him, using their own forces, I really, really doubt - in fact, I can say with absolute certainty that there would've been no grief for his death. Because there is wide acceptance for the fact that he is responsible for thousands of deaths.

BLOCK: Let's talk a bit about the timing here. Because the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been laying the ground for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, and Pakistan's Interior Minister then called the U.S. drone strike the murder of peace efforts. So what happens to those talks now?

PESHIMAM: Well, last night, the Cabinet - I mean the highest decision-making executive body of the government of Pakistan, in a resolution, reaffirmed that the government will continue to press on with peace talks. Now, the ball is in the court of the loose umbrella of militant groups that is known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. The initial reaction right now from the - what we are viewing as their temporary leader, is that there will be no talk of talks, at least right now.

But I am quite confident that even if they are unable to get many groups on board, the government of Pakistan will be able to reach out to many groups that may or may not have necessarily liked or even agreed with a lot of what Hakimullah Mehsud was wanting to bring to the table.

So I think that the peace talks are far from dead. I would not agree with the interior minister's assertion that the peace talks have been harmed in a manner that cannot be fixed.

BLOCK: It is, of course, a delicate balance that the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has to strike. He was just here in Washington. He met with President Obama. The State Department said it would release billions of dollars in aid. But back home, he has to strike a very different tone and a different message, right?

PESHIMAM: Yes. You see, there was another very interesting little bit of rumor going on in Pakistan was that in fact the Interior Minister, I think, said it by mistake that he said that the American president - or at least the Obama administration - had communicated to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that they would, in fact, target Hakimullah Mehsud whenever or wherever they found him.

So I don't think it was a bolt out of the blue. And the fact that the prime minister decided to stay in London for an extended period of time, during which Hakimullah was targeted, is now giving rise to theories that, in fact, the government was told that Hakimullah would be targeted, and then they could get on with their peace talks if they so desired.

BLOCK: So, according to this theory, the prime minister would have known - would have been told in Washington that this was going to happen, and yet at home has to express outrage.

PESHIMAM: Exactly, that would be correct. But we know that he was told. That is confirmed. There is no speculation there. The speculation revolves around the fact that it was the prime minister deliberately did he stay away, and delay the start of the peace talks because he knew this was going to happen. And then when he comes home, he can say: I was not even there and this is outrageous, and we haven't even begun the peace talks yet. So some sort of knowledge on the part of the Pakistani government is being speculated.

BLOCK: Gibran Peshimam is political editor for The Express Tribune in Karachi. Mr. Peshimam, thanks very much.

PESHIMAM: A pleasure.



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