IRSHAD SALIM (JUN 15, 2018): Media reports say a US drone targeted and killed the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Mullah Fazlullah in the Afghan province of Kunar straddling Pakistan’s western border.
Fazlullah and his commanders were having an Iftar party at a compound when a remotely piloted US aircraft targeted them, The Express Tribune has reported citing sources. Four other TTP commanders who have been identified as Abu Bakar, Umar, Imran and Sajid were killed, it said.
The report comes amid a seven-day ceasefire between the Afghan Taliban and government security forces to allow Afghan citizens to observe the last days of Ramadan and Eid peacefully and coincides with a whirlwind visit to Kabul by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa where he threw his weight behind the fresh peace overture of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Prior to his visit, ISPR spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor in a media conference had signaled that Pakistan was ready to use all sorts of leverages that remained with it to persuade the Taliban to join the Afghan negotiation process. The spokesman had importantly said that Pakistan wanted the US forces to succeed and go back from Afghanistan “with a notion of victory and success”.
The message, analysts believe, was meant to dispel US fears that Pakistan wanted to undermine American efforts in Afghanistan.
Subsequently, three phone calls from the U.S. to Islamabad and Rawalpindi jump-started a significant development toward thawing of icy relations between the two countries. The most significant call — six months after President Trump’s early morning New Year caustic tweet against Pakistan — was from Washington by Vice President Micheal Pence to caretaker prime minister Justice retired Nasir ul Mulk.
Pence’s message and emphasis was the needed cooperation from Pakistan for lasting peace in Afghanistan, and hoping that the premier would successfully undertake the task of holding elections in the country.
The second and third important calls were from Secretary State Mike Pompeo and from Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates to Pakistan army chief Gen. Bajwa in Rawalpindi. These communications were seen as the first major move towards improving strained relations between the two countries.
Pakistan has been insisting on taking out of the TTP and other militants hiding in Afghanistan while targeting Pakistan as a quid pro quo to dispel its reciprocal fears that US inaction against such anti-Pakistan elements was undermining its counter terrorism efforts inside the country.
The official Voice of America radio was quick to comment on the calls saying, “The United States appears to be easing public pressure on Pakistan in a bid to encourage the country to help promote peace and reconciliation with the Taliban to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan.”
However, weeks earlier, on March 22 while expressing satisfaction over “US action against Mullah Fazlullah” — Pakistan said more needs to be done. The “action” purportedly came after PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi during his “private visit” to the US met with Vice President Mike Pence at latter’s residence (on March 17) and held detailed talks on Afghan peace process.
A few days earlier Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua had visited Washington as part of an attempt by both states to work together.
Prior to Janjua’s visit, on the same day, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells had said they could be in the beginning of a process with the Pakistani government.
Subsequently, on March 22, Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal said at the weekly news briefing that “It is a matter of satisfaction that the US is taking actions against terrorists hiding inside Afghanistan and targeting Pakistan, including Fazlullah (also known as Mullah Radio), who have committed acts of terrorism across Pakistan. More needs to be done” though, Dr. Faisal had said.
The spokesperson had further said that the Afghan government and the Resolute Support Mission needed to “do more” within Afghanistan to eliminate all safe havens and terrorist sanctuaries.
That “more needed to be done” and “do more” request from Pakistan to the US apparently was delivered publicly on Thursday June 13, if unconfirmed reports and sources attributed to by the media are considered.
The Voice of America radio reported that a US military official confirmed to its correspondents that a US drone strike had “targeted the TTP leader in an Afghan province near the border with Pakistan”.
The official US radio also quoted unconfirmed reports from the target area as claiming that Mullah Fazlullah had been killed.
A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Dawn correspondent in Washington, said the strike was carried out late Wednesday and the TTP chief was its target but he also said that he could not confirm if he was killed.
A spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, Army Lt Col Martin O’Donnell, told VOA that “US forces conducted a counter-terrorism strike June 13 in Kunar province, close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which targeted a senior leader of a designated terrorist organization.”
Pentagon officials, when asked to comment on the VoA report by Dawn, said they were not yet in a position to confirm or decline if the strike was successful.
Related Article: Thaw In US, Pakistan Relations Could Lead To a Slam-Dunk For All
With less than 45 days left for free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections on July 25, the taking out of Maulana Radio and his cohorts if confirmed would be a welcome sign — in that, it would provide the caretaker government and the defense apparatus a big boost from internal security point of view going forward even well beyond the polls. In the runup to the 2013 elections, such forces were inimical to project democracy and had artificially managed to create an uneven playing field for the moderates, many observers had noted then. Two major moderate parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in Sindh and Punjab and the Awami National Party (ANP) in Khyber Pakhtunwa were marginalized.
Beyond project democracy — a critical element of internal stability for Pakistan — a quid pro quo framework to deliver lasting peace in war-torn Afghanistan, with US forces succeeding and going back from Afghanistan “with a notion of victory and success” was needed to jump-start the process, and as, I wrote last week that it would take two to tango for a slam-dunk for all.
(The writer is a business consultant and analyst, and Group Editor of PKonweb.com and DesPardes.com – His opinion articles, analysis and reports also appear in Jeddah-based Al-Bilad English Daily and UAE-based Caravan Daily)