WASHINGTON, Nov 2: The elimination of TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud could be “very awkward” for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and could further strain US-Pakistan relations, said Bruce Riedel.
Mr Riedel, a former CIA and White House official who played a key role in forming the Obama administration’s drone policy, also saw the attack as a setback to Pakistan’s efforts for engaging the Taliban in peace talks.
In interviews to various US media outlets, Mr Riedel and other US experts also noted that Mehsud’s elimination followed hard on the heels of the capture of a TTP leader by US forces in Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago.
Mr Riedel said Pakistan had informed the United States and Britain that peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban were imminent. “So the drone strike is very awkward and difficult for Sharif. Conspiracy theories in Pakistan will assume he agrees to the strike even as he proposed peace talks with Mehsud,” he said.
The attack will also be “another setback for US-Pakistan relations ironically,” he added.
Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at Washington’s Heritage Foundation, described Mehsud’s elimination as “a significant step forward in the fight against global terrorism.”
She noted that the TTP had been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis in terrorist attacks throughout the country since the group was formed in 2007.
Mehsud was also involved in the 2009 attack on the CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, having appeared in a video filmed before the attack with the Jordanian suicide bomber, she added.
Ms Curtis also noted that Mehsud had recently given an exclusive interview to the BBC in which he said his group was ready to engage in peace talks with the Pakistan government.
In congressional testimony delivered on Tuesday at a House Subcommittee, Ms Curtis said it was unclear what Pakistan and the Taliban would discuss since Mehsud had made clear that one of the TTP’s main goals was to wage jihad against the “infidel” system of governance in Pakistan.
In the six weeks before the elections in May, the TTP took responsibility for attacks that killed scores of election workers and candidates mainly from the secular-leaning parties.
“The PML-N’s support for negotiations with the TTP during this campaign of violence and failure to denounce the attacks seemed to play in to the TTP’s strategy of using violence to intimidate civilians and impose its agenda,” Ms Curtis said.
At the White House, a spokeswoman for the US National Security Council, Caitlin Hayden, said “this would be a serious loss” for the Pakistani Taliban.
She noted that the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility for the failed bomb plot at New York’s Times Square in 2010.
The leader of a US congressional delegation currently visiting Pakistan also welcomed the strike that killed Mehsud.
In a statement issued by his office, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, said: “I congratulate the hard work of those protecting us and mourn the loss of those killed in past attacks by this man.”
The New York Times noted that to the CIA, Mehsud’s death “represents a payback of sorts.”
“But Mehsud’s death also comes at a delicate time,” NYT observed, noting that last week Prime Minister Sharif, who strenuously opposes drone strikes, met President Obama at the White House to express that opposition.
“Mr Sharif’s plans to engage in peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban have also been thrown into disarray — and possibly rendered unnecessary — by Friday’s attack,” NYT commented. “Enraged Taliban commanders have vowed to repay Mehsud’s killing in bloodshed”.
The Washington Post warned that the drone strike also threatened to add to strains between the United States and Pakistan.
The newspaper noted that on Friday, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan issued a statement accusing the United States of carrying out “a conspiracy to sabotage the peace talks’’.
The report said that Mehsud’s death could create new tensions within TTP, “hindering Mr Sharif’s effort to negotiate a peace deal with any one faction.”