ISLAMABAD: Despite public condemnation and anger expressed by Islamabad over the US drone strike that killed Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor last week, the government is unlikely to take any drastic steps that may negatively affect its bilateral relationship with Washington, officials said on Sunday.
The Taliban chief was targeted by a US drone aircraft in Naushki area of Balochistan on May 21. The strike is seen as a serious setback to Pakistan-US bilateral ties.
Following the strike, the Foreign Office summoned US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale and lodged a strong protest while the army chief General Raheel Sharif also conveyed to him that ‘such violations’ could undermine bilateral ties between the two countries.
Pakistan has accused the US of not honouring the commitment it had made along with Afghanistan and China at the last Quadrilateral Coordination Group meeting that option of peace talks would be pursued first before targeting the Taliban leadership.
While the civil and military leaderships have already recorded their protests with the US administration over violating Pakistan’s sovereignty, they are also contemplating possible measures in response to the US ‘unilateral action’ and are preparing a detailed response to decide the future course of action. The future strategy with regard to bilateral ties between the US and Pakistan will be discussed during a meeting of the high-powered National Security Council (NSC).
Though NSC meeting was expected to take place later this week it has been delayed due to unavailability of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is set to undergo open heart surgery in London. The main issue before the country’s civil and military leadership is how to respond to the situation arising out of the killing of Mullah Mansoor.
During interactions, concerned officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the incident certainly caused a ‘hiccup’ in bilateral ties with the US and Afghan peace efforts.
But they hastened to add that Pakistan would not resort to any steps that will have any negative fallout on its relations with the US and regional stability.
No change in Afghan policy
Pakistan has publicly accused the US of sabotaging the fledgling Afghan peace process by eliminating the Taliban chief. Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on Thursday pointed out that this was the second time in a year that Afghan peace process was scuttled.
He said under the present circumstances it was difficult to suggest if the Taliban would return to the negotiating table anytime soon. US President Barrack Obama was also not upbeat about the possibility of any peace deal in the aftermath of Mullah Mansoor’s killing. Despite the pessimism, officials said Pakistan would continue to exert its ‘influence’ to reach out to the new Taliban leadership and urge them to come to the negotiating table.
Tough policy on Afghan refugees
While the government may continue to seek engagement with the US and Afghanistan, it will now show no flexibility on the issue of Afghan refugees. The response, which Pakistan is preparing, will urge all the stakeholders including the US to take immediate steps regarding the repatriation of Afghan refugees. “These refugee camps serve as sanctuaries for the Afghan Taliban,” claimed one official.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2016.