US-Pakistan Relations after Mehsud’s Death
The US drone attack in Pakistan’s northeastern Waziristan, which killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, has put US-Pakistani relations once again into test after relative improvements in the bilateral relations between the two uneasy allies who have had strained ties in recent years. After the Friday attack, a Pakistani minister was quick to label the killing as “death of peace” talks with the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). And, the Pakistani Interior Minister said the country was going to review all its cooperation with the United States as a result of the killing of the TTP leader. NATO chief Andres Rasmussen tacitly warned Islamabad on Monday that moving to cut NATO supply route to Afghanistan was not in interest of Pakistan. The comments came after some Pakistani officials even have suggested that the country may protest to the attack with cutting NATO supply route to Afghanistan, which is critical to the NATO mission in the country.
Mehsud’s killing came only a day before a pre-scheduled trip of a delegation of the Pakistani government into North Waziristan to talk to Taliban leaders. It has angered Pakistani officials who believe the attack has scuttled the peace negotiations with Taliban. Despite that the Pakistani government may attempt to limit their cooperation with the US in different areas particularly on the war in Afghanistan, it is less likely that Islamabad once again risk its relations with the West by cutting NATO supply line into Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s government is also cautious about the view of its handling of the crisis to the country’s public, who are highly antagonistic to the US drone strikes in the country. Also, the government of Pakistan is concerned from a possible backlash of the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud that could ruin his peace talks with the militant groups. Pakistan’s Taliban have always been suspicious of Islamabad’s role in helping the US to target militant leaders. Also this time, it is highly likely that the Pakistani Taliban is seeing Islamabad’s hand cooperating with the US in killing their leader. And this is not a good sign for Nawaz Sharif’s initiative of talks with the militant groups under Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan. This to some extent justifies Pakistan’s anger over the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud. The attack also occurred shortly after Pakistan’s Prime Minister visited US president Barack Obama in Washington and returned back to Pakistan.
Given Pakistan’s internal politics and reliance of Pakistan and the West in Afghanistan, it is expected that Pakistan’s government might move to react to the attack in a way or others to avoid revenge attacks from the militant groups and possibly bring them back to negotiation table. And for the peace initiative of Nawaz Sharif’s government, obviously Islamabad is unhappy with the timing of the attack, if not to the drone attacks in general. The attack seem to have derailed the talks at least for an unknown period of time, as the affiliate groups of the Pakistani Taliban are in a disarray lacking a powerful leader or a monolithic central leadership that could negotiate with Pakistan’s government.