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WASHINGTON: US Def­ence Secretary James Mattis has underlined the role that American forces played in removing Pakistan’s most wanted terrorist, as Wash­ington sends a senior envoy to Islamabad for peace talks.

“The forces engaged against the terrorists basically killed Fazlullah, the head of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP),” said Mr Mattis while talking to Pentagon journalists in Alaska.

This is a rare confirmation of a terrorist’s elimination by a senior US official and comes amid renewed efforts for restoring peace in Afghan­istan where the United States has been engaged in an apparently unending military campaign since 2001.

Usually, US officials do not talk about targeted attacks, particularly when it involves a drone, as it was a US drone that killed Fazlullah. While the US continues to use drones to eliminate terrorists, it prefers not to confirm or deny such attacks. Senior US officials are particularly careful because it’s often difficult to confirm the kill.

Secretary Mattis, however, not only confirmed Fazlul­lah’s elimination but also explained why it was important to do so. Diplomatic observers in Washington see this as a reminder to Pakistan that the US did them a favour by removing their most wanted terrorist. Now, they need to return the favour by cooperating with the United States in its efforts to jumpstart the Afghan peace talks.

The Trump administration is sending a senior envoy — Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice G. Wells — to Islamabad next week to explore the possibility of a permanent peace in Afghanistan.

A transcript released by his office on Wednesday shows Mr Mattis identifying Fazlullah as a terrorist leader “well known” for ordering the 2014 Peshawar School Massacre.

On Dec 16, 2014, six TTP gunmen attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar and killed 149 people, including 132 schoolchildren. It was the world’s fourth deadliest school massacre.

Secretary Mattis noted that Fazlullah’s men killed the “school-going children and teachers” and unleashed a reign of terror in Swat.

“I’ve been to Swat … one of the most stunningly beautiful places you’ll ever go on earth, I’ll tell you.

“If you’ve — for those of you who ever get there, for a good trekking opportunity,” said the US defence secretary while explaining how Fazlullah turned a heaven into a hell.

“There, his reign was known until the Pakistan military threw him out, for the beheadings he was able to carry out there to impose his will, which didn’t last long but was certainly murderous while he was there.”

Secretary Mattis noted that Fazlullah also ordered the murder of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl who “strongly represented education for children”.

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2018