Report: Sharif calls Cabinet to discuss Mehsud killing

Nov. 4, 2013 at 2:03 AM
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ISLAMABAD, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- Pakistan is unlikely to take any drastic step as it reviews its U.S. ties over the killing of the Pakistan Taliban's leader, a source told the Express Tribune.

"There won't be any knee-jerk reaction," a senior government official told the Pakistani newspaper after last week's killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, in a drone strike that set off strong reaction in Pakistan where the U.S. drone program is strongly opposed by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Sharif summoned his Cabinet for a special meeting to discuss the situation arising from the Mehsud incident and Pakistan's internal security, the Tribune reported. All ministers and senior officials were asked to attend, the newspaper said.

The Tribune quoted the prime minister's office as saying Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan would provide a briefing on key points that would need to be considered by the government as it reviews ties with the United States.

The official who spoke to the Tribune said the Sharif government would not resort to any action that might place bilateral relations at odds with the United States.

"We will register our protest through appropriate channels but the government is not contemplating any radical steps," he said.

Pakistan's opposition parties are demanding tougher action against the United States. One of them has said its provincial government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province would stop NATO trucks carrying supplies to coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Tribune said.

But the newspaper's source said blocking the supply routes would not be a solution to the problem.

Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid also has dismissed demands that Pakistan cut off supplies to the NATO forces. However, in a symbolic move, the government is expected to support a resolution in the National Assembly to condemn the U.S. drone strike, the Tribune said.

During the weekend, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan was summoned to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry but details of the meeting were not known.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said the U.S. envoy was called "by the foreign secretary to register our protest over the recent drone attacks," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Chaudhry said the drone strikes constitute a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and are "violative of international humanitarian laws, besides being counter-productive to Pakistan's efforts to bring peace and stability in Pakistan and the region."

CNN quoted a U.S. State Department official as confirming the meeting but reported the official would not discuss U.S. operations in Pakistan. The report also said the official only stressed the Pakistan Taliban's 2009 attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan and claims of responsibility for a failed attempt to bomb Times Square in New York.

The Mehsud incident has stirred up more criticism of the drone program even though the TTP under his leadership has been blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Pakistanis in its reign of terror in recent years.

The Sharif government also had been making efforts to open peace talks with the Mehsud group and his killing has been criticized as stalling that process.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, in an earlier media briefing, said while Washington has been following Pakistan's talks with the TTP, the issue "of whether to negotiate is an internal matter for Pakistan ... We work closely with [Pakistan] on a range of issues, of course, but this isn't a dialogue or discussion that the United States would be involved in, as you know, I'm sure."

Pakistan's News International newspaper Monday quoted the TTP as saying it blamed the Pakistani government for the killing of Mehsud and that the group would not hold any peace talks. The group also threatened to avenge the killing of their leader.

"After consultation with all the factions, it has been unanimously decided that we will not hold any peace talks with the government. It's a puppet government of the U.S. and it deceived us in the name of peace talks," spokesman Shahidullah Shahid was quoted as telling a correspondent of News International.

Shahidullah also was quoted as saying Mehsud's killing was a "huge loss" to the Pakistan Taliban.

CNN quoted Rashid as saying Mehsud's death would not delay the proposed peace talks.

The New York Times noted Mehsud had been seen as a ruthless killer when he was alive. But after his death some Pakistani leaders have reacted strongly against the drone strike. The interior minister had even denounced the strike as sabotaging the peace talks, while media commentators talked of American treachery.

Some U.S. security analysts saw the latest Pakistani reaction as another sign of perversity and ingratitude, which are blamed for the souring of bilateral relations, the Times said.

"It's another stab in the back," said Bill Roggio, whose website, the Long War Journal, monitors drone strikes. "Even those of us who watch Pakistan closely don't know where they stand anymore. It's such a double game."

The Times said to some Pakistanis, however, it is the United States that is double-dealing.

Some analysts told the Times Pakistani hostility toward the United States, however, may prevent them from seeing their own best interests.

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