Pakistan’s Taliban rejects peace talks, citing No. 2 leader’s death in U.S. drone strike

NASEER AZAM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES - A U.S. drone strike killed Pakistani Taliban No. 2 Waliur Rehman on May 29, in Pakistan.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s Taliban said Thursday that it will not participate in peace talks with the country’s new government and will exact “revenge in the strongest way” after one of its top leaders was killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike.

Confirming the death of Wali ur-Rehman, the second-ranking leader of the militant group, the Taliban’s chief spokesman blamed Pakistan’s government for not doing more to prevent CIA-launched drone strikes on Pakistani soil.

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“The government has failed to stop drone strikes, so we decided to end any talks with the government,” Ehsanullah Ehsan, the spokesman, said in a phone interview. “Our attacks in Pakistan will continue.”

U.S. officials had blamed Rehman, who was the chief deputy to Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, for a series of bloody cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO personnel in Afghanistan, including a 2009 assault that killed seven Americans at a CIA facility.

In a move that appeared to test President Obama’s revised policy for the use of drones, two missiles were fired into a house Wednesday in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region. Rehman was killed along with at least three other militants.

Pakistan’s government condemned the strike, but it comes less than a week before the
swearing-in of a new National Assembly that is expected to install Nawaz Sharif as prime minister. Sharif, who twice held the post in the 1990s, campaigned against continued U.S. drone strikes ahead of the May 11 national elections, as did numerous Pakistani politicians.

Last week, as he prepared to reassume power, Sharif signaled that he may be willing to engage the Taliban in peace talks after years of violence that has killed thousands of civilians. Taliban officials had also appeared receptive to talks, although many analysts were skeptical that they could result in a lasting peace.

On Thursday, Ehsan said that not only will there be no talks but that the Taliban will step up its attacks to avenge Rehman’s death.

Within hours of the killing, Pakistani Taliban officials signaled that Khan Said, a friend of Mehsud’s thought to be in his mid-30s, would be installed as the group’s new second in command.

Reuters and other media outlets reported that Said helped plan a 2011 attack on a Pakistani navy base that killed 18 people, as well as a 2012 jail break that freed hundreds of militants.

Khurram Dastgir-Khan, an incoming member of Parliament from Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N, said the Taliban’s comments will undoubtedly cloud the peace process.

“It aggravates the situation and makes it further difficult to pursue the path of dialogue,” said Khan, who also called U.S. drone strikes “counterproductive.”

Pakistan’s government had no immediate response to the latest Taliban threats of violence.

But earlier Thursday, the government announced that James F. Dobbins, the new U.S. representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, had made his first visit to the country.

Dobbins met with senior Pakistani government and military officials to discuss joint counterterrorism efforts and ways they can work together to support Afghanistan as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014, according to the Pakistani foreign minister’s office.

Khan reported from Peshawar. Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad contributed to this report.

 
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