U.S. killing of Taliban chief sparks debate in Pakistan

By Ihsan Qadir  |  Nov. 22, 2013 at 2:28 PM
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LAHORE, Pakistan, November 26, (UPI Next) --

 The United States’ killing of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud in a Nov. 1 drone attack has sparked heated debate among Pakistanis amid protests from the government and some political parties.

Mehsud had become head of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, a militant organization based along the Afghan border, in 2009 after the death of Baitullah Mehsud (no relation) in a U.S. drone strike. Washington had put a $5 million bounty on Hakimullah Mehsud's head.

Pakistan has lodged an official protest with the United States over the attack. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government was in the process of arranging peace talks with the Taliban, which have been staging attacks in the country, when Mehsud was killed.

Maulana Fazlullah, a firebrand militant whose men have been blamed for the attack on 16-year-old girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai, has been the named new chief of TTP.

Lahore school teacher Muhammad Jawad said the United States "should have not disrupted the peace process with the Taliban by killing Mehsud."

Jawad pointed out the Taliban are Pakistanis and Muslims, and said he hoped they would understand that they should not attack their Muslim brethren and Pakistani state.

"How is the U.S. our friend when it is also killing innocent civilians in drone attacks?" asked wedding hall owner Umar Farooq.

"If Taliban are killing ordinary peace-loving Pakistanis, the U.S. is doing the same in drone attacks.”

Ayesha Siddiqa, a social scientist, told UPI Next, "Pakistan should be thankful to the U.S. for killing Hakimullah."

"Five or six years back, Pakistan used to complain the U.S. targeted the state through drones, but not its enemies," she said. "Keeping in view Pakistan's complaints, the U.S. drones targeted Pakistani state's enemies. First it killed Baitullah Mehsud, their other top leaders and finally Hakimullah."

Siddiqa said the drone that killed Hakimullah Mehsud ultimately weakened the Taliban and speculated that terrorism would decrease.

Commenting on protests from the Pakistani government and Jamat-e-Islami, an Islamist organization, she said that although Sharif has a public mandate, he follows the lead of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, the party headed by Imran Khan.

Khan has protested Hakimullah Mehsud's killing and threatened to stop NATO supplies traveling through Pakistan to Afghanistan if the United States does not end its drone attacks.

Regarding Jamat-e-Islami's protest and labeling Mehsud as a martyr, she said the group, like other banned organizations, does not consider the Pakistani state legitimate and so does not support its actions against groups such as the Taliban.

"Jamat-e-Islami, like the Taliban, considers a share in power its legitimate right, which is not given to it," she said.

"That is why Jamat-e-Islami considers action against the state enemies wrong and sides with them."

Latif Khosa, former governor of Punjab and secretary-general of the Pakistan People's Party, lashed out at Sharif for protesting the killing.

In a phone interview with UPI Next, he said he did not favor drone strikes but indicated he did not object to the strike that killed Hakimullah Mehsud.

"What's the harm if the No. 1 enemy of Pakistan, on whom the Pakistani government itself had announced millions of dollars' reward, was killed in a drone strike?" he asked. Pakistan offered a $60,000 reward in Mehsud's arrest or killing.

"Lodging a protest and calling him a martyr is against the Pakistani state, the constitution and the law of Allah, since he butchered 50,000 innocent Pakistanis," Khosa said.

But ordinary Pakistanis expressed gratitude for the killing.

"The U.S. should kill all those who destroy life of peace-loving Pakistanis," Irfan Shah, who works at a private bank in Lahore, told UPI Next.

Muhammad Kashif, a Lahore fruit seller, said, "Had Hakimullah killed the brothers and sisters of those who are calling him a martyr and lodging protests, they would have never lodged protest. Their protests and calling him a martyr means they are the Taliban's counterparts."

Farooq Khan, who lives in the remote Muzaffargarh district of Punjab province, told UPI Next, "I saw U.S. helicopters rescuing flood victims in 2010 before our own government authorities."

"Now," he said, "the U.S. has killed the TTP chief who was Pakistan's top enemy. We should always say thanks to the U.S. in its positive steps for Pakistan and Pakistanis."

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