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Pakistan Divided Over Slain Taliban Chief's Legacy

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The killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, the chief of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (T.T.P.), an Al-Qaeda affiliate, in a drone strike in Pakistan's lawless tribal region on Friday is a spectacular counter-insurgency gain for the United States. The State Department had enlisted the T.T.P. among the Foreign Terrorist Organizations while the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) had announced a reward of $5,000,000 for information that led to capture or killing of the 34-year old militant commander.

According to the F.B.I., Mehsud was wanted for "his alleged involvement in the December 30, 2009 bombing of a United States military base located near the Afghan town of Khost... the blast from the explosion killed seven United States citizens and injured six other United States citizens."

In addition, he was also charged with conspiring to kill a United States National outside the United States while Washington, on September 1, 2010, listed Mehsud among Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

The government of Pakistan, which had announced a relatively smaller bounty on Mehsud, viewed the militant leader as an enemy because he had sanctioned the killing of thousands of Pakistani soldiers, policemen and unarmed civilians. Yet, Islamabad would not go to the extent of agreeing that Mehsud was such a bad guy who deserved to be punished with a drone strike.

While the United States has provided about 25 billion dollars to Pakistan to fight the war on terror, the latter has still failed to wholeheartedly own and fight this war. Islamabad remains undecided whether it is a victim or a defender of the Taliban.

For instance, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, ironically, "strongly condemned" the drone strike which killed Mehsud, the dreaded terrorist, arguing that there is "an across the board consensus in Pakistan that these drone strikes must end."

The Pakistani Taliban, despite causing enormous bloodshed, enjoys the support of the central government, besides an expanding right-wing political constituency and sections of the hyper-national media. They regularly oppose Pakistan-led military operations and the U.S.-led drone strikes against the Taliban.

The Taliban apologists, headed by former national cricket skipper Imran Khan, often nicknamed as Taliban Khan, who now heads the Pakistan Justice Movement or the P.T.I., got an inch closer to power in the general elections of May 2013. The P.T.I. gained control of the regional government in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K.P.) where the Taliban have strongest presence within Pakistan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's center-right Pakistan Muslim League (P.M.L.N), which won an overwhelming majority in the general elections, had promised during its election campaign that it would, if elected, negotiate with the Taliban.

The P.M.L. and the P.T.I. both insist that America's drone strikes will perpetuate instability in Pakistan, increase sympathy for the Taliban and encourage more young people to join the Taliban.

Nonetheless, there is no authentic scientific poll or survey to substantiate such assumptions.

The detractors of drone strikes fear the consequences of Mehsud's killing. Prime Minister Sharif had convened an All-Parties Conference (A.P.C.) in September in Islamabad to win the support of all political groups for initiating dialogue with the Taliban. Since Sharif had not clearly stipulated the terms and conditions for talks with the Taliban, negotiations could not commence even a month after the A.P.C.

Observing growing public anxiety and incessant media inquiries regarding rapprochement with the Taliban, Sharif said last week that his government had formally established contact with the Taliban. Much to Sharif's embarrassment, the Taliban immediately rebutted the Prime Minister's claim saying that they had not begun any kind of talks with Islamabad yet.

The killing of Mehsud on Friday is likely to provide the Taliban a solid pretext to abandon, or at least delay, talks with Islamabad. Talks will not being at least until the T.T.P. nominates a new figure for Mehsud's coveted position. Unfortunately, neither Pakistan has the commitment nor the capability to completely obliterate the Taliban insurgency. The T.T.P.'s gesture also suggests that the group is currently endeavoring to buy more time till the United States withdraws troops from Afghanistan. The Pakistan Taliban seem to believe that better days and more rewarding deals await them should they refrain from striking any deals with Islamabad at this time.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, the United States will possibly get the bulk of the blame from P.M.L. and P.T.I., both ruling parties, for disrupting talks with the Taliban by killing the chief of the terrorist group. The P.T.I. has called for the blockade of supply lines to N.A.T.O. forces in Afghanistan in a pattern of protest which was also witnessed in 2011 soon after the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by N.A.T.O. forces at Salala, on Pak-Afghan border. The N.A.T.O. supplies remained closed for several months until Washington apologized to Islamabad for that incident.

Regardless of Pakistan's outcry, Washington's drone campaign has proved extremely precise and productive in ousting key Al-Qaeda leadership, dismantling the terrorist organization's command and structure in elusive tribal regions of Pakistan.

These deadly strikes have also eradicated the core leadership of the Pakistani Taliban. Prior to his killing, Mehsud's deputy, Wali-ur-Rehman (killed in 2013) and two of his predecessors Baithuallh Mehsud (2009) and Nek Muhammad (2004) were all killed in U.S. drone strikes.

Islamabad's inability or unwillingness to go after the perpetrators of terror should not instead be taken as an opportunity to absolve Pakistan of its responsibility to fight terrorism. Considering that country's limited counter-insurgency capabilities, Islamabad should in fact thank and appreciate Washington for eliminating some of the greatest threats to its national security. Washington has helped its ally to hunt down dangerous employers of terror and tyranny against whom the Islamic republic has failed to take action.