U.S. Drone Strike Rankles Pakistani Government

The Pakistani Taliban was forced to name a new leader after its chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a U.S. drone attack on Friday. The Pakistani government called the strike "counter-productive" to peace and stability. Host Rachel Martin speaks with Harris Khalique, a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper The News International.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

This morning, the Pakistani Taliban named an interim leader. They were forced to do so after their commander, a Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed by a U.S. drone strike Friday. Mehsud was buried by the Taliban early yesterday in northwest Pakistan. And later that day, the Pakistani government summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest Mehsud's killing.

U.S. drone strikes are, of course, a major issue for Pakistan. Just this past week, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in Washington to reiterate his country's opposition to the U.S. policy of using targeted drones on its soil.

To hear more about all this, we reached Harris Khalique in Islamabad. He is a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper The News International. And we began by talking about the Pakistani Taliban as a force in Pakistan.

HARRIS KHALIQUE: Well, the Pakistani Taliban is actually quite a few groups who have come together in an umbrella organization. And they are waging war within Pakistan. And they, of course, have contacts elsewhere - I mean, in Afghanistan and in other countries, perhaps - and with, of course, Al-Qaida. And so it is sort of a loose alliance of different organizations. But they elect one leader.

MARTIN: The U.S. government has been after the group's leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, for three years. The Pakistani government considered him an enemy. But yesterday, Pakistan's government called the strike counterproductive, to bringing peace and stability. What does that mean? Can you explain that?

KHALIQUE: Well, I mean there are multiple opinions here. I mean the government has come out and said that. However, many people in Pakistan still think that he was the enemy of the state, an enemy of people at large. However, the government sees it, you know, as a blow to the dialogue process they were trying to initiate for the past few weeks.

You know, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to the U.S. and his meeting with President Obama, I mean they were trying to pursue a dialogue process with the TTP. And they think that the drone attack is counterproductive because it will halt the process. The has yet to begin. But even the initiation of the process will get halted, according to the government now.

MARTIN: As we mentioned, this past week, the Pakistani prime minister met with President Obama. This was before Mehsud was killed by a U.S. drone strike. All reports of that meeting where that that - the conversation seemed to go pretty well. I wonder what this strike will mean. Will this drone strike mean another step backwards in the relationship between U.S. and Pakistan now?

KHALIQUE: There is a problem here. The problem is that drone strikes are seen as unlawful by many international bodies, as well as within Pakistan. However, the Taliban in Pakistan is also a defunct and unlawful outfit, according to the government.

So, you know, so it's more of - I mean I see it as something which is very confusing for the general populace because on the one hand, Hakimullah was seen as an enemy by the Pakistani establishment also but at the same time, in the past few weeks they were trying to speak to the outfit to bring a longer-term solution to the problem. But they were still unlawful. and the drone strikes are also seen as unlawful and breach of sovereignty of Pakistan.

MARTIN: Harris Khalique, he is a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper The News International. He joined us from Islamabad. Thanks so much for talking with us.

KHALIQUE: Thank you.

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