Pakistan slams U.S. for killing Taliban leader

Possible Mehsud successors

A look at the Pakistani Taliban and those being discussed as successors to Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in an U.S. drone strike Friday:

— Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan: An umbrella organization of militant groups based in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan that are fighting to overthrow the Pakistani government and install a hard-line form of Islamic law. The TTP was formed in 2007 and is loosely affiliated with the Taliban in Afghanistan but has a separate leadership and decision-making process. Mehsud assumed leadership of the organization in 2009 after the previous head was killed in a drone strike.

— Khan Sayed: The leader in the South Waziristan wing of the TTP. He’s often referred to as Sajna, which means “close friend” in Punjabi. Sayed was close to Waliur Rehman, the deputy leader of the TTP who was killed in a May drone strike. He is a leading member of a TTP group responsible for training suicide bombers. While some reports suggest he’s more moderate than Hakimullah Mehsud, he’s also been described as a merciless, experienced fighter. Sayed is the only one of the three prospective leaders who is from the Mehsud tribe, which dominates the top positions in the TTP. Several Taliban commanders reported that a majority of commanders gathered Saturday voted for Sayed to lead the group.

— Mullah Fazlullah: Head of wing for the northwest Swat Valley. His group began to infiltrate the valley in 2007 and spread fear among residents by forcing men to grow beards, preventing women from going to the market and blowing up schools. A military offensive in 2009 pushed the group out of the valley. Fazlullah escaped and is believed to operate from eastern Afghanistan. Fazlullah and his group are believed to have carried out the attack on teenage activist Malala Yousufzai.

— Omar Khalid Khurasani: Head of wing in the Mohmand tribal area. He’s considered an effective and powerful leader with close ties to al-Qaida. He is a poet and writer who studied at a seminary in Karachi. He’s believed to have fought in Kashmir, a region claimed by both Pakistan and India, and in Afghanistan against NATO troops. In Mohmand, he is most famous for seizing a Sufi shrine and renaming it in honor of the Red Mosque in Islamabad. The Red Mosque was a center of militant activity until it was stormed by Pakistan security forces in 2007.

Information gathered from Associated Press archives, Taliban commanders, the Long War Journal and the West Point, N.Y.-based Combating Terrorism Center.

The Pakistani government Saturday accused the U.S. of sabotaging peace talks with domestic Taliban fighters by killing their leader in a drone strike, as the militants began the process of choosing a successor.

The rise in tension, even though the U.S. took out Pakistan’s No. 1 enemy, shows just how complicated the relationship between the professed allies can be. The two repeatedly have clashed over issues such as drone strikes and Pakistan’s alleged support for militants fighting U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban leader slain Friday, Hakimullah Mehsud, was a ruthless figure known for a deadly attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan and a bloody campaign that killed thousands of Pakistani civilians and security personnel.

The Pakistani army has launched numerous operations in the country’s northwest in a failed attempt to subdue the group, which aims to topple Pakistan’s democratic system and impose a harsh version of Islamic law. It also seeks an end to the country’s unpopular alliance with the U.S.

Pakistan’s government, which took office in June, has pushed peace talks with the Taliban as the best way to end the conflict, although many people are skeptical a deal is possible.

The drone strike that killed Mehsud in the North Waziristan tribal area came a day before the government was to send a three-member delegation of clerics to the region with a formal invitation to start peace talks, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said. It never ended up going.

Khan called the drone attack “murder” to the peace effort, but hoped the process could continue. He said he warned the U.S. ambassador previously that American drone strikes should not be carried out while Pakistan was trying to hold peace talks and no Taliban leader should be targeted. The government later summoned the U.S. ambassador to complain.

When asked whether he thought the U.S. was trying to deliberately scuttle the peace process, the minister responded: “Absolutely.”

“The efforts have been ambushed,” the minister said.

He did not say what he felt the U.S. stood to gain but questioned: “Why do they want us to be insecure?”

Another prominent political leader, Imran Khan, whose party controls the government in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, threatened to block trucks carrying supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan over the strike. He said he would push the provincial assembly to adopt a resolution to block the supplies and would do the same nationally.

“Dialogue has been broken with this drone attack,” Imran Khan said.

The interior minister said as soon as Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returns from abroad, a national security meeting will be convened to discuss U.S.-Pakistan relations and cooperation. He would not specifically address the threatened supply lines closure.

Azam Tariq, the Pakistani Taliban spokesman in the South Waziristan tribal area, provided the first official confirmation of Mehsud’s death Saturday.

“We are proud of the martyrdom of Hakimullah Mehsud,” Tariq said. “We will continue our activities.”

Mehsud and the other four militants killed in the strike were buried Saturday at an undisclosed location, Taliban commanders said. Drones still flew over the area, and witnesses in the towns of Mir Ali and Miran Shah reported that Mehsud’s supporters fired at them in anger.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and adviser to the Obama administration who helped craft the agency’s drone campaign, said Mehsud’s death was “a serious blow to the Pakistani Taliban which may spark internal fractures in the movement.”