Death of Baitullah Mehsud to 'boost to US-Pak relations'

The almost certain death of the chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, who has been blamed for numerous attacks on Pakistani soil including the assassination of former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto, could also help to quell some of the public anger over US drone strikes, which are launched from secret bases in Pakistan with the government’s tacit approval, but often kill civilians as well as militants, The Times said.

Citing intelligence inputs, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Friday that the Tehrik-e-Taliban chief has been "taken out" in a US drone attack in the country's tribal belt.

"This is very positive news for Pakistan: some of this criticism of the US will now vanish," Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani political and security analyst, said.

"Those not affiliated with Islamic parties will do a lot of rethinking about drone strikes and about those people who accused the US of secretly supporting the Taliban," was quoted as saying by the British daily.

Even as Mehsud’s death will not disrupt the Taliban for long as there are many other rival or affiliated commanders ready to take his place, it will convince at least some Pakistanis of the benefits of what they have long seen as a one-sided bilateral relationship, the analysis said.

Pakistan has pressed the United States for at least two years to use the missiles from the Predator and Reaper drones to target Mehsud. Until recently, the CIA was reluctant to comply, preferring to focus on monitoring or attacking Taliban and al-Qaeda targets who, unlike Mehsud, were seen as direct threats to American interests, it said.

One senior officer in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency told the British daily recently that a US drone had had the feared warlord in its sights on at least one occasion but had not fired despite requests from Pakistan.

It had fostered the perception that Washington either had no interest in killing Pakistan’s enemies or was secretly supporting them. "What else could we conclude?" the intelligence officer said.

Under President Barack Obama, however, there had been a shift of thinking on Mehsud, especially after the insurgents took control of the northwestern region of Swat in April and threatened to move into the heartland of Pakistan's Punjab province.

For US officials, the prospect of the Taliban taking control of Pakistan's heartland or sparking sufficient anarchy to seize its nuclear weapons as their single biggest security threat.

Moreover, US intelligence also suggested that top al-Qaeda leaders, pinned down by US drone strikes, were resorting to outsourcing terrorist attacks to Mehsud, who had developed widespread network in the major cities of Pakistan, the analysis said.

It pushed the US military to put a USD 5 million bounty on Mehsud’s head and began targeting him and other militants regardless of whether they had attacked American forces in Afghanistan.

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