The United States will consider all its options, including a raid inside Pakistan, if it knows the whereabouts of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, US Senator John Kerry said on Saturday.
The statement came a day after a joint sitting of Pakistani parliament condemned the May 2 US raid to find and kill al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, calling for a review of US ties and warning that the government could cut supply lines to US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan if there were more such attacks.
“The US government will always reserve all of its options to be able to protect our people. Other plots have been conducted and organised and planned out of Pakistan. It is really critical that we talk with the Pakistanis as friends,” said Kerry who is visiting Afghanistan ahead of a trip to Pakistan.
US officials have long maintained Omar fled to Pakistan after the Taliban government was overthrown in late 2001 by US-backed Afghan forces and is still in hiding there. But Islamabad has denied reports he is in Pakistan.
Kerry said Pakistan itself was a victim of extremism and faced its own tough decisions but that the killing of Bin Laden provided a new opportunity. “Sometimes those choices can be very difficult for people to make because of the pressures that they’re under and the violence that occurs,” he said.
Kerry said Islamabad needed to improve efforts in fighting extremism, but the death of Bin Laden provided a critical chance to move forward. “We obviously want a Pakistan that is prepared to respect the interests of Afghanistan, and to be a real ally in our efforts to combat terrorism,” said Kerry. “We believe there are things that can be done better.”
Security officials nervous
For years, US officials have said the one-eyed Omar is based is in Quetta, not far from the Afghan border, where he heads a Taliban leadership council, or shura.
Pakistan rejects assertions that Omar is in Pakistan, or even that the so-called Quetta shura exists. Whether or not the shadowy Taliban supremo is in Quetta, security officials are nervous.
“It’s a very tricky situation,” said a senior intelligence official who declined to be identified. “If you ask us if Mullah Omar is in Quetta, the answer is ‘no’, we have no such information.”
Nevertheless, he said his men had stepped up efforts to track Omar although the had no new leads. “We’ll definitely get him if we know where he is. It’s very important for us to get him before the United States does. We don’t want another Abbottabad-like situation,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2011.