Wednesday 29 May 2013
A senior Taliban commander is believed to have been killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan, the first such operation since Barack Obama announced tighter regulations on their use and since an election won by a party that had campaigned against them.In an operation that will
further complicate the debate over the use drones and present an immediate challenge for Pakistan’s prime minister elect, Nawaz Sharif,
reports said two missiles were fired from the unmanned drone and hit a house in a village near Miran Shah in North Waziristan.
Pakistani intelligence officials told Reuters that among up to seven people killed was Wali-ur-Rehman, the man considered the number two in the Pakistan Taliban. However, there was no immediate independent verification of the claim and the Taliban denied he was dead.
The US drone strikes – usually targeting al-Qa'ida and Taliban fighters involved in attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan - are deeply controversial in Pakistan and a foreign ministry spokesman has condemned the operation. Analysts said the fact the Americans decided to target the Pakistan Taliban, which have largely attacked targets inside Pakistan, could suggest Pakistani military cooperation
While there is concern about the number of civilians killed in the strikes, there is equal anger that the drones represent an affront to the country’s sovereignty. During his election campaign, Mr Sharif, who is due to be sworn in next week, said he was opposed to their use and would withdraw from the US’s so-called war on terror.
“Drones indeed are challenging our sovereignty. Of course, we have taken this matter up very seriously,” he told reporters, shortly after his victory.The party of Imran Khan, which is set to lead a coalition government in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, is also strongly opposed to the drones.
The regional assembly, based in Peshawar, was sworn-in on Wednesday sworn in.
The strike was the first since Mr Obama delivered a speech last week in which he said tighter regulations would be imposed on the use of drones in places such as Pakistan and Yemen. It is likely their use will switch from the CIA to the Pentagon, though critics point out most details about the operation of the drones remains classified information.
“As our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defence cannot be the end of the discussion,” Mr Obama said in Washington.
He added: “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power, or risk abusing it.”
Mr Sharif’s position on drones may be more nuanced than his campaign slogans suggested. Senior members of his party have said what they really want is control over the targeting of such operations.
If it is confirmed that the deputy of Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud, or another senior Taliban figure was killed in Wednesday morning’s strike, it will strengthen the hand of those who support the use of drones, despite the controversy they create. In 2010, the US added Wali-ur-Rehman and Mr Mehsud to its list of so-called Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
“I think Mr Sharif will be caught in a dilemma. The target that the Americans have chosen could not have been better for Pakistan,” said retired general Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based analyst. “At the political level it may raise some questions for him, but he must have known after President Obama’s speech that the strikes would continue.Mr Masood said the decision to target a Pakistani Taliban fighter “could” indicate the cooperation of the Pakistani military, but he added: “The level of cooperation between the intelligence agencies is not always clear.”A Bhisman type of pronouncement!}
There have been 355 drone strikes since 2004, according to the US–based New America Foundation, and at least 3,336 people have been killed. Earlier this month, a court in Peshawar declared the strikes were illegal and asked the government to move a resolution against their use in the United Nations.
The court made its announcement in relation to a legal petition filed last year by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a legal charity based in Islamabad. It was acting on behalf of the families of up to 50 people killed when missiles stuck a tribal gathering, or jirga, in March 2011.
The head of the group, Shazhad Akbar, said: “The court ruling means that any drone strike puts the government of Pakistan in a very difficult decision.”