PESHAWAR: The Pakistani interior minister on Saturday accused the US of “scuttling” efforts towards peace talks with the Taliban by killing the militants’ leader in a drone strike. Chaudhry Nisar said “every aspect” of Pakistan’s cooperation with Washington would be reviewed following Friday’s drone attack that killed Hakimullah Mehsud in the country’s tribal northwest. Pakistan also summoned the US ambassador on Saturday to protest over two recent drone attacks, the foreign ministry said.
Conflicting reports emerged on Saturday over the selection of Hakimullah Mehsud’s successor. Local media reported that Khan Said Sajna , a battle-hardened terrorist with years of fighting experience in Afghanistan, was named chief after a Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan meeting. However, a late-night PTI report said the outfit had put on hold a decision to make Sajna its new chief as several commanders opposed the move.
Instead, Shehryar Mehsud has been named caretaker chief and its Shura or council will meet again in the next few days to decide on a new leader, Taliban sources said.
Sajna comes from South Waziristan and belongs to Shabikhel sub-tribe of Mehsud clan. He was Mehsud’s key aide and is said to have been behind many deadly attacks across Pakistan, including a jailbreak and an attack on the Karachi naval base.
The other contender for the top job in the group was Mullah Fazlullah, the chief of Taliban in Swat, whose fighters shot Malala Yousafzai. Meanwhile, Taliban fighters secretly buried Mehsud, who was in his mid-30 s and carried a $5 million bounty on his head, under cover of darkness amid fears that his funeral might be attacked. Mehsud’s vehicle was hit while he was returning from a meeting of Taliban leaders. A Taliban leader said his body was “damaged but recognizable”.
The slain Taliban chief’s deputy was killed in a drone attack in May while his top aide was captured in Afghanistan last month. Mehsud’s two predecessors were killed in similar attacks.
Fears of Taliban backlash has mounted in Pakistan after Mehsud’s aide vowed to avenge his killing. “Our revenge will be more deadly and unprecedented,” said Taliban commander Abu Omar. He blamed the Pakistan government for endorsing the drone strikes and added they know their “enemy very well”.
The government sounded highest alert across Pakistan , fearing attacks as uncertainty prevailed over its move to engage with the Taliban, who have often fiercely retaliated to the killings of their leaders and targeted public places, military installations. Peshawar, which has taken the brunt of the Taliban attacks , wore a deserted look on Saturday as security forces had put up blockades across the city to prevent possible strikes.
The government, which planned to send its negotiators for talks with the Taliban, condemned the latest attack. Pakistan foreign office issued a pro forma statement terming the attack a violation of sovereignty. Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan described it a US ploy to sabotage talks with the Taliban.
He said a delegation was about to be sent for talks with the Taliban and added Mehsud’s killing had derailed PM Nawaz Sharif ‘s plans to engage the Taliban. Sharif had announced the beginning of the talks in London hours before the drone strike killed Mehsud. Opposition Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan asked the government to block Nato supplies in retaliation to the drone attacks.