ISLAMABAD: While denouncing the US drone strike that reportedly killed Afghan Taliban chief, Pakistan on Sunday stopped short of officially confirming the death of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor on its soil as it was collecting evidence to verify the claims by Washington and Kabul.
It took the government a whole day to come up with a response after US officials and Afghan government confirmed Mansoor was killed in a drone strike in Balochistan.
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In a statement issued following the meeting chaired by Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, the Foreign Office confirmed that late Saturday night the United States shared information with Pakistan about the drone strike that reportedly killed the Taliban leader.
“This information was shared with the prime minister and the chief of army staff after the drone strike,” the statement added.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also confirmed he received a telephone call from US Secretary John Kerry at 10pm on Saturday regarding the drone strike. The premier told reporters in London that Pakistan was verifying reports whether Mullah Mansoor was killed in the drone strike.
A Foreign Office statement said that according to the information gathered so far, a person named Wali Muhammad, s/o Shah Muhammad carrying a Pakistani passport and ID card, resident of Killa Abdullah, entered Pakistan from Taftan border on May 21.
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His passport was bearing a valid Iranian visa. He was traveling on a vehicle hired from a transport company in Taftan, the statement said.
This vehicle was found destroyed at Kochaki along the Pak-Afghan border. The driver’s name was Muhammad Azam whose body has been identified and collected by his relatives. “The identity of the second body is being verified on the basis of evidence found at the site of the incident and other relevant information,” according to the Foreign Office.
It said Pakistan wished to once again state that the drone attack was violation of its sovereignty, an issue which had been raised with the United States in the past as well.
The statement also recalled that the recent meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group had reiterated that a politically negotiated settlement was the only viable option for lasting peace in Afghanistan, and called upon the Taliban to give up violence and join peace talks.
This is the first time the United States has carried out a drone strike beyond the tribal areas. Pakistan routinely condemned the drone strikes as violation of its territorial integrity and sovereignty.
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While the Foreign Office statement did not confirm the death of Mansoor, security sources told The Express Tribune that the man killed in the drone strike ‘resembles’ with the Taliban leader. “He [Mullah Mansoor] is probably gone, but we need to cross-check more facts before official confirmation,” a security source revealed.
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Background interviews with officials suggested that Pakistan was furious over the US decision to take out Mullah Mansoor. “Would the Taliban now ever come to the negotiating table after this incident,” asked the official.
He claimed that the United States ‘deceived’ Pakistan, as according to him, there was an understanding among the countries involved in the peace process that Taliban leaders, including Mullah Mansoor, were allowed to travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“The US was telling us they will not target Taliban leaders while efforts are on to bring them to the negotiating table,” the official added.
When asked, he admitted that four-nation initiative to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table was all but over. “This incident will have far reaching implications,” the official cautioned saying Pakistan was assessing the situation to evolve its strategy accordingly.
Another official, who was also shell-shocked about the American ‘unilateral’ action, told The Express Tribune that the drone attack targeting Mullah Mansoor was contrary to the decision taken at a recent QCG meeting. “They [United States] could not succeed with all its military might in Afghanistan for the last 15 years but ironically they were expecting the result of the reconciliation process overnight,” the official said. “They should have been more patient as peace efforts were just few months old,” the official said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2016.