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Drone strike marks shift in US strategy in Afghanistan

The drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in Pakistan is being seen as a major shift in US strategy for ending the Afghan war, one that makes Islamabad look terrible, again.

world Updated: May 25, 2016 22:20 IST
Yashwant Raj
An Afghan man reads a local newspaper with photos the former leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was killed in a US drone strike last week.
An Afghan man reads a local newspaper with photos the former leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was killed in a US drone strike last week.(AP)

The drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in Pakistan is being seen as a major shift in US strategy for ending the Afghan war, one that makes Islamabad look terrible, again.

Pakistan has protested, of course, calling it an infringement of its territorial sovereignty, but its chief grievance could be the loss of a claim to a large part of the Afghan war.

The US had so far targeted, with tacit Pakistani permission, only al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban figures and that too along Pakistan’s northwestern border with Afghanistan.

The strike against Mansour changed that. The New York Times said in a an editorial Wednesday: “The United States has for years held off targeting senior Taliban leaders while they were inside Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, where Pakistan’s powerful army has long protected them.

“But President Obama crossed that line by authorising the drone strike that killed the Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour on Saturday.”

The Afghan Taliban, with its Haqqani network faction, was left to Pakistan to handle, with the understanding that Islamabad would persuade them to join peace talks. But it failed.

“The (drone) attack was a sign of American exasperation with Pakistan’s duplicitous game of working with Washington to combat terrorism while sheltering the Taliban and its even more hard-line partners in the Haqqani network,” the NYT said, adding, “The Pakistanis have relied on the Taliban and the Haqqanis to protect their interests in Afghanistan and prevent India from increasing its influence there.”

Americans expected Pakistan to persuade Mansour, who took charge of the outfit after Mullah Omar’s death, to join peace talks, but the new leader did not, and stepped up attacks.

There has been a marked increase in frustration and anger with Pakistan among policy makers in the US, with the word “duplicitous” frequently used for it.

The Baluchistan drone strike, which Obama called “an important milestone”, marks a significant dip in already troubled US-Pakistan ties.