Pakistan to review links with US after drone death

Nawaz Sharif: will chair meeting on the consequences. Picture: AP
Nawaz Sharif: will chair meeting on the consequences. Picture: AP
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Pakistan is to review its relationship with the United States, the prime minister’s office said yesterday, following the killing of the Pakistani Taleban leader in a US drone strike.

But a top-level meeting to examine relations, scheduled for yesterday, was postponed at the last minute without explanation.

Hakimullah Mehsud was killed on Friday in the northwestern Pakistani militant stronghold of North Waziristan, near the Afghan border.

The Pakistani Taleban has killed thousands of Pakistani civilians and members of the security forces in its bid to impose Islamist rule, but the new government has been calling for peace talks. The government denounced Mehsud’s killing as a US bid to derail the talks and summoned the US ambassador on Saturday to complain.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s office had said he would chair a meeting on the consequences for ties with Washington. There was no indication when it might now take place.

Some politicians have demanded that US military supply lines into Afghanistan be blocked in response.

“It is clear that the US is against peace and does not want terrorism to subside. Now, we only have one agenda: to stop Nato supplies going through [the northern province of] Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” Asad Qaiser, the speaker of the provincial assembly, said.

Pakistan is the main route for supplies for US troops in landlocked Afghanistan, for everything from food and drinking water to fuel, and the closure of the routes could be a serious disruption as US and other Western forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year.

Pakistani co-operation is also seen as vital in trying to bring peace to Afghanistan, in particular in influencing the Afghan Taleban, allied but separate from the Pakistani Taleban, into talks with the Kabul government.

Relations between the US and Pakistan have been seriously strained several times over recent years, including in 2011, when US forces killed al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden in a raid that Pakistan said violated its sovereignty.

But cash-strapped Pakistan depends to a great extent on US support. Washington, despite frustrations over the relationship, is unlikely to break completely with its nuclear-armed ally.

Three Pakistani Taleban commanders said they had been due to meet a government delegation on Saturday and they had been meeting to discuss the talks.

They said they felt betrayed by Mehsud’s killing and were not interested in talks.

A Pakistani Taleban spokesman vowed a wave of revenge bombings. Allied militant groups are also planning bombings, said Ahmed Marwat, the spokesman for Jundullah militant group.

The group recently killed more than 80 people when it bombed a church and is known for big attacks on civilian targets.

Mehsud’s followers have been debating who should replace him while they observe three days of mourning, said Taleban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. They have in the meantime appointed an interim leader, Asmatullah Shaheen.

Several militant commanders said on Saturday that 38-year-old Khan Said, known as Sajna, had been chosen.

But other factions of the Pakistani Taleban alliance were unhappy with the choice and were supporting other candidates.

These included Mullah Fazlullah, the ruthless commander from the Swat Valley, northwest of the capital, Islamabad, whose men shot and wounded schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai last year.

Mr Said is seen as a relative moderate.