Waliur Rehman Mehsud’s death “will create a crisis of leadership because there is no obvious successor, and Hakim is in no position to make a comeback,” said Mansur Khan, the director of research at the FATA Research Center, an independent policy institute in Islamabad.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry expressed “serious concerns” over yesterday’s strike, contending that it violated the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law.
Pakistan has routinely condemned the CIA strikes. It says that at least 2,200 people, including as many as 600 civilians, have died in some 330 such attacks since 2004.
Yet Waliur Rehman Mehsud’s death suggests that the CIA and the powerful Pakistani army-run Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate are continuing to cooperate on drone operations against the Pakistani Taliban that date to 2004.
A review of top-secret U.S. intelligence reports that McClatchy published in April showed that despite Pakistan’s denials of collaboration, the CIA launched drone strikes on behalf of the ISI against the Pakistani Taliban at least through June 2010 in return for ISI aid against al-Qaida.
Two former U.S. officials, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, told McClatchy there was an understanding in Washington and Islamabad that Pakistan would denounce the strikes publicly to obscure the ISI’s role in order to shield civilian and military leaders from a popular backlash over the strikes and civilian casualties.
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CIA drones were based at airfields in Pakistan until December 2011, when Pakistan halted CIA drone operations from its territory after 25 of its troops were killed when U.S. aircraft strafed a Pakistani outpost near the Afghanistan border. Drones have continued flying into Pakistan from U.S. bases in Afghanistan, albeit at a much reduced rate from their peak in 2010-11.
Several experts said it was unlikely that the strike that killed Waliur Rehman Mehsud, who was thought to be in his early 40s, would have been launched without the ISI’s approval.