ISLAMABAD – Pakistan relations spiralled yesterday with the United States and Iran as President Barrack Obama confirmed Afghan Taliban chief Mulla Akhtar Mansour’s death.
While the US and Afghanistan celebrated the death of Mulla Mansour, Pakistan and Iran were closing in for a potential diplomatic tussle. Islamabad was already at loggerheads with Washington over the strike. And ties with Kabul were far from being good.
The latest strike could signal a fresh blow for Pak-US ties, which improved after the killing of al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden in 2011 but were in trouble again in the recent weeks. The US has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan, mainly in the tribal regions with Afghanistan.
Pakistan, which is yet to verify the killing, summoned US ambassador David Hale yesterday to express concern over the drone attack on Pakistani territory late on Saturday.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Syed Tariq Fatemi told the envoy that the drone strike was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and a breach of the United Nation’s Charter that guarantees the inviolability of the territorial integrity of its member states.
He emphasised that such actions could adversely impact the ongoing efforts by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group for facilitating peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
“The Special Assistant to the Prime Minister also underlined that Pakistan and the United States had been closely coordinating in the fight against the menace of terrorism and that this cooperation needed to be maintained,” said a foreign ministry statement.
President Obama in a statement hailed Mansour’s death as an ‘important milestone’ in efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, indirectly advising Pakistan to deny safe havens to Afghan Taliban.
Senior Taliban sources also confirmed the killing of their leader, adding a shura (council) was under way to select a new leader. Islamabad however did not confirm Mansour’s death.
The news of Taliban chief’s killing opened a new phase of brainstorming for the government after the Panama leaks scandal.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his top diplomatic lieutenants – Sartaj Aziz and Tariq Fatemi among other aides – were more concerned about the extension of the drone strikes to Balochistan than knowing who was killed.
A senior official at the foreign ministry told The Nation the government had decided to take ‘strong stand’ over the drone attack. “For us the main issue is not whether he is killed or not. We want to know if we are under attack,” the official said citing the top-level deliberations.
He said the PM, Sartaj Aziz and Tariq Fatemi agreed there could be no more flexibility over the drone attacks as they were becoming increasingly threatening for the sovereignty.
“We have given an open message today to the US ambassador and are in contact with Washington also. There will be no compromise on such strikes,” he added.
Another official said the PM and the top diplomats were in contact with friendly countries in the West and the Middle East to stop the US from crossing the lines.
“We are telling the US and other friends that allies should not be treated as foes and we are taking a stand against the latest strike. There could be an exchange of visits to discuss the issue in details,” he contended.
Officials said Fatemi was in contact with PM Sharif – who is in London for a medical check-up – to brief him about the meeting with the US envoy.
Earlier, Iran denied Pakistani reports that Mulla Mansour entered Pakistan from the Islamic republic before being killed in a US drone strike.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said: “The competent authorities of the Islamic republic deny that this person on this date crossed Iran’s border and into Pakistan.” “Iran welcomes any positive action leading to peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he added, without elaborating.
Taliban sources told Reuters that Mansour had crossed into Pakistan from Iran, where he had been holding meetings with Iranian officials and Taliban leaders located there. They said the movement has set up two offices in Iran which he used to visit.
Reports said Wali Muhammad, thought to be a cover name for Mulla Mansour, who was killed in a US drone attack on a car in Nushki, had travelled abroad 18 times between 2006 and 2016. He first left for Iran’s Taftan on February 18, 2016 and returned to Pakistan on March 10. Then again he visited Taftan on April 25, 2016 and returned on May 21.
He also travelled through Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport 15 times and once from Quetta airport. Wali Muhammad travelled to Dubai via Emirates, Gulf, Shaheen, United Airline, PIA and Iran Air. Last time, he toured Iran twice via road, reports said.
Other reports said Wali Muhammad had his name in the voter list of Chaman. There was no official confirmation.
Defence analyst Lt-Gen Amjad Shoaib said the US had its own interests in the region. “It has signed an agreement with India under which Washington will be able to use all bases of India. The US-India relations have moved ahead and Pakistan should explore other options than relying solely on the US,” he added.
Another defence analyst Dr Mohammed Khan said Pakistan was fighting a war against terrorism not only for itself but also for peace and prosperity of the world.
“The US has adopted double standards. On the one hand it is supporting India by supplying it with modern technology and weapons and up-gradation of its missile system and on the other it is cancelling the defence deals with Pakistan,” he commented.
Possible contenders to succeed Mansour include the sons of Taliban founder Omar, Mulla Yakoub and Mulla Abdul Manan Akhund. But it is Sirajuddin Haqqani – leader of the Taliban-allied Haqqani network responsible for some of the worst attacks on Afghan and US targets – whose name has popped up most frequently among senior sources. His appointment could intensify the conflict even further.
Published in The Nation newspaper on 24-May-2016