(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)
Pakistan is said to be reviewing its relationship with the United States following the killing of a leader of the Pakistani Taliban over the weekend.
His killing, under the controversial US drone program, appears likely to further heighten tensions between the two countries.
It comes just weeks after Pakistan’s Prime Minister called on the US to halt its unmanned aircraft strikes, already under scrutiny over civilian casualties.
Santilla Chingaipe has the details.
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Hakimullah Mehsud and three others were killed on Friday in the militant stronghold of Miranshah, in northwest Pakistan, by a US drone aircraft.
His death comes just weeks after the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief took the risky and unusual step of granting an interview to the BBC.
During that interview, Hakimullah Mehsud said he was still open to peace talks with the Pakistan government.
But he reiterated his demand that any ceasefire in Pakistan had to include an end to U-S drone strikes and the imposition of Sharia law.
(translated) “The withdrawal of the Americans from Afghanistan will have no impact on the Pakistani Taliban. The government’s friendship with America is just one reason why we are conducting a jihad here. We also want to see Sharia law imposed in Pakistan because the current system is unIslamic. We will continue with this demand and with our fight even after the Americans have left.”
The killing of its young leader represents a major setback for the TTP, a coalition of factions that has claimed some of the most high-profile attacks in Pakistan in recent years.
The TTP was behind the 2008 bombing of the Islamabad Marriott hotel and the attempt to kill schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai last year.
Hakimullah Mehsud’s death comes at a crucial moment in Pakistan’s efforts to end the TTP’s bloody six-year insurgency that has left thousands of soldiers, police and civilians dead.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been expected to send a delegation to open contacts with the militants, after winning backing for dialogue from political parties last month.
No formal talks have begun and opposition parties have accused the US of using the drone strike to obstruct the process before it had even started.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, has also sharply criticised the United States for carrying out the deadly drone strike.
“The government of Pakistan does not see this drone attack as an attack on an individual, but as an attack on the peace process. It is absolutely irrelevant to indulge in a discussion or a debate on who the individual was, or who the other individuals were who were with him. The essence of the matter is that Pakistan on the eve of 9/11 was a peaceful country. We had our problems, we had our economic problems, we had our political problems, we had other problems. But terrorism was definitely not one of the problems. Of those nine or ten individuals who carried out the attack on the Twin Towers, not one was from Pakistan; not one of them had set foot in Pakistan. And yet, the blowback from the reaction of the United States has turned this country upside down.”
Mr Khan and says this latest drone attack has scuttled a peace process that was about to begin with the Taliban.
“Brick by brick, in the last seven weeks we tried to evolve a process through which we can bring peace to Pakistan and what have you done? You have scuttled it on the eve of the day, one day before, 18 hours before a formal delegation of respected ‘ulema’, or religious leaders, was to fly out to Miranshah and hand over this formal invitation, both as far as the venue is concerned and also as far as certain other issues were concerned.”
Former cricketer Imran Khan is the leader of the Pakistan Tehrek-e-Insaaf party that rules in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Mr Khan also believes the strike has sabotaged peace talks.
And he says he plans to block NATO supply convoys to Afghanistan in retaliation for the US drone strikes.
(translated) “I will raise the issue on Monday in the National Assembly. The NATO supply lines should be blocked until drone attacks stop. We will not allow NATO supply lines to enter Khyber Pakhtunkhwa until they stop the drone attacks.”
Hakimullah Mehsud took over as leader of the al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban in 2009.
The group’s two previous leaders were killed in attacks by US missile-firing drones.