Baitullah killing shows closer Pak-US cooperation

ISLAMABAD: The reported death of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone attack points to closer cooperation between Pakistan and the US in the covert war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, according to analysts.

Mehsud’s purported death last Wednesday would mark the biggest success of the covert CIA war against the Taliban in Pakistan. US National Security Adviser Jim Jones welcomed the reported killing as “a big deal” – which, he told NBC News, meant US efforts to forge closer security ties with the Pakistani military were “moving in the right direction”. Last May, CIA Director Leon Panetta said unmanned aircraft had been “very effective” in targeting the leadership of Al Qaeda.

Despite more than 50 such attacks over the last year, Pakistan recently noted a US shift of attention towards Baitullah, having complained that US spies targeted those considered a threat to US troops fighting in Afghanistan.

“The US and Pakistan say they have a common enemy and a common fight,” said Ishtiaq Ahmed, international relations professor at Quaid-e-Azam University.

“If the intelligence for striking Baitullah was provided by Pakistan, then we are seeing a different level of cooperation between the two countries. The Pakistani public should now say ‘thank you America’,” added Ahmed.

Pakistan has in the past vociferously opposed drone attacks. But if a US missile killed Baitullah, Islamabad would have less room to object and US attacks would increase, said analysts.

“The elimination of Baitullah has widened the space for drones to operate,” said Ahmed.

Analysts say the US decision to target Baitullah has given a shot in the arm to Islamabad’s battle against Taliban in western Pakistan.

“The US will be able to strike more now saying it is effective, and Pakistan will have no justification to oppose these attacks,” Pakistani tribal affairs expert Rahimullah Yusufzai told AFP.

“The killing of a key Pakistani enemy by the US will improve public opinion and create a soft corner for the US in Pakistan,” said Yusufzai. But pressure would also mount on Pakistan to take advantage of the US drone attacks to step up its fight against the Taliban and assert more control over the wild, semi-autonomous terrain.

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