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HomeMiddle EastPakistan Finally Confirms Taliban Leader’s Death in U.S. Strike

Pakistan Finally Confirms Taliban Leader’s Death in U.S. Strike

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan officially confirmed the death of the former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour for the first time on Thursday, five days after the American drone strike that killed him on Pakistani soil, raising diplomatic tensions.

The official announcement came from Sartaj Aziz, the chief foreign affairs adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, at a news conference in Islamabad. “All indicators confirm that the person killed in the drone strike was Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was traveling on a fake identity,” Mr. Aziz said. “The DNA test will also be available in a day or two.”

Denying earlier reports, including from the Taliban, that the body of the insurgent leader had been handed over to his relatives, Mr. Aziz said the body was still in the custody of the Pakistani authorities and would be handed over after the results of DNA testing were in.

In recent days, even after the United States, Afghanistan and the Taliban had all confirmed the death, Pakistani officials had maintained that they were still trying to confirm that Mullah Mansour was among the two people killed in the strike on Saturday, in a remote corner of Baluchistan Province.

Officials say that a Pakistani passport Mullah Mansour had been using was found just a few yards from the charred shell of the vehicle he and a driver were in when it was hit by the American missile. The name on the passport was Wali Muhammad, and it featured a residential address in Killa Abdullah, a small town in Baluchistan.

Reiterating a longstanding Pakistani position against drone strikes, Mr. Aziz criticized the latest attack as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty “as well as a breach of the U.N. charter governing the conduct of states.”

It was the first confirmed American drone strike in Baluchistan, where the Taliban’s leadership had enjoyed a seemingly impenetrable haven for years. The strike sent shock waves through Pakistan’s security establishment, which went for days without issuing any public reaction to the strike. American drones had struck in other areas of Pakistan for years, but American officials said that Pakistan had long rejected requests to allow drone strikes in Baluchistan.

Gen. Raheel Sharif, the Pakistani Army chief, broke the military’s silence on Wednesday when he expressed “serious concerns” over the drone strike in a meeting with David Hale, the American ambassador to Pakistan. “Such acts of sovereignty violations are detrimental to relations between both countries and are counterproductive for ongoing peace process for regional stability,” General Sharif was quoted as saying by the media wing of the Pakistani military.

Confirming reports by American security officials that Pakistani officials had only been notified about the strike after the fact, Pakistani officials said General Sharif was informed about the strike three and a half hours afterward, while the prime minister was informed seven hours after the strike.

On Thursday, Mr. Aziz echoed the sentiment of the Pakistani Army chief, saying the American strike had further complicated the process of peace talks with Afghanistan.

“We believe this action has also undermined the Afghan peace process,” Mr. Aziz said. “On 18th May, Pakistan, United States and China had agreed that politically negotiated settlement was the most viable option rather than violence, and efforts should continue to bring the Taliban on the table. This understanding has not been respected.”

“In our view there is no military solution of the conflict in Afghanistan,” Mr. Aziz said.

Pakistani officials say the killing of Mullah Mansour will destabilize Afghanistan, and have contradicted the American and Afghan assertions that he was opposed to peace talks toward ending the Taliban’s insurgency.

Mr. Aziz caused a sensation in March when, during a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, he acknowledged that the Afghan Taliban had long been sheltering in Pakistan — an assertion that had been repeatedly denied by Pakistani officials over the years despite being seen internationally as fact. In recent months, Pakistan had come under pressure from the United States and Afghanistan to force the Taliban into talks with the Afghan government.

Mr. Aziz acknowledged that Pakistan could sway the Taliban leadership, saying, “We have some influence on them because their leadership is in Pakistan, and they get some medical facilities, their families are here.” But he denied that Pakistani officials could do much more than simply urge them to come to the negotiation table.

In the wake of the drone strike, Pakistani officials have once again objected to the presence of large numbers of Afghan refugees in the country. There are approximately 1.5 million displaced Afghans in Pakistan who hold Pakistani proof of residency cards. And there are an additional one million undocumented Afghans thought to be living in different parts of the country, according to Human Rights Watch.

“The presence of a large number of Afghan refugees has become a big security risk,” Mr. Aziz said at the news briefing. “Militants use the camps as hide-outs for their nefarious activities.”

In an apparent effort to support the expulsion of displaced Afghans, the authorities in Baluchistan said they had arrested six “Afghan spies” who were living as refugees in the province.

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(via NY Times)