Strike on Mehsud could spur stronger US-Pakistan cooperation

The targeting of the Pakistan Taliban leader showed US willingness to pursue Pakistani priorities. The US may now push for more help in finding Pakistan-based militants who operate in Afghanistan.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

US officers have complained for years that Pakistan has been reluctant to help kill or capture some Taliban leaders who operate in the lawless tribal region along the Afghan border.

But the US drone strike that apparently killed senior Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud (click here for the Monitor's story on the strike) on Wednesday couldn't have pleased Pakistani officials more, since Mr. Mehsud led an army of 10,000 militants who were more focused on overthrowing the Pakistani government than on returning Taliban rule to Afghanistan.

Pakistani analysts say the strike was made possible by marrying American technology to Pakistani ground intelligence. They say the US may now get more Pakistani cooperation in hunting down militant leaders who are based in Pakistan but conduct most of their attacks on the other side of the border.

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The US will now probably be seeking a "quid pro quo," says Imtiaz Gul, head of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. Mr. Gul argues that the US is going to have the following conversation with Pakistan: "We [the US] took care of a person who was inflicting damage against Pakistan – now you take care of those going after the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan."

The apparent killing of Mehsud "should clear the way for greater coordination as far as the other militants are concerned," he adds.

Cooperation until now has been hampered by mistrust on both sides. Just as US commanders have complained that the Afghanistan-focused Taliban haven't been a priority for Pakistan, some Pakistani officials have complained the US has ignored "actionable intelligence" on Mehsud in the past.

Watch list: Haqqani, Mullah Omar

If an era of closer cooperation is indeed at hand, two leaders in the US crosshairs are Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Omar.

Mr. Haqqani and his family form the Haqqani network, a group based in North Waziristan. The CIA has accused Pakistan of maintaining close ties with the group, which is also linked to Al Qaeda and sometimes operates in concert with the Taliban. The Haqqani network has masterminded some of the deadliest terror attacks in Afghanistan.

Mullah Omar, meanwhile, led the Taliban during its time in power in Afghanistan and is believed to have found refuge in Pakistan, though it's unclear at this point what control he has over the wider Taliban movement.

The American's will be "relentlessly" pushing Pakistan to do something about Haqqani, whose group is believed to be holding a US soldier, says Roshtam Shah Mohmand, former chief secretary for Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. He's less convinced about Pakistan's commitment to going after the militant leader.

"Whether the Pakistani establishment will be moved to do that . . . I can't really say with any certainty."

He says the successful targeting of Mehsud will at least silence some Pakistanis who have criticized their government's tacit approval of US drone operations, since it demonstrates America is willing to pursue Pakistani priorities as well as its own.

But Rifaat Hussein, a security expert at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, argues that the use of American drones to assassinate militants in Pakistan will continue to inflame "sensitive sovereignty issues" among ordinary Pakistanis. He points out that what they see are images of civilians getting killed in homes where the strikes take place without further context. Many Pakistanis worry, he says, that the use of drones will be expanded beyond the tribal areas.

"If this is going to be the future model of warfare against the terrorists, then what happens when these terrorists move out of the tribal areas into other parts of Pakistan?" he says. "What is to prevent them from [using] these drone strikes in the settled areas of Pakistan?"

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