“For a TTP hit, I have no reason to doubt that the ISI was involved,” said Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert at Georgetown University in Washington.
Waliur Rehman Mehsud’s death comes just before the assumption of power next month of a government led by Nawaz Sharif, a center-right politician who will become the prime minister for a record third time. Sharif based his appeal partly on his demand for an end to drone strikes and a pledge to seek peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
It’s unclear, however, whether Sharif’s plan has the backing of the powerful army, which ruled the country for half of its 65-year existence and has 150,000 troops in the tribal region, where fighting is underway in three of the seven tribal agencies.
Taking out Waliur Rehman Mehsud, who was seen as more amenable to negotiations than Hakimullah Mehsud, could be a way for the military to short-circuit Sharif’s plans.
“I can imagine that the ISI is not especially happy with Nawaz Sharif’s professions of wanting to open talks with the TTP,” Fair said, pointing out that the militants have repeatedly rejected a demand that they accept Pakistan’s democratic Constitution as a condition for peace. “One way of clipping his wings on this issue is by taking out a senior member of the TTP leadership.”
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Legal scholars who question the legality of targeted killings said Mehsud’s killing seemed to contravene the rules that Obama broadly described last week for targeted killings. A key issue concerned the criteria that the administration used in apparently designating Mehsud a target.
Carney and a senior administration official cited Mehsud’s alleged role in the 2009 CIA base bombing and attacks on U.S. and NATO personnel in Afghanistan as one reason he might be targeted. But Obama said in his speech that targeted killings aren’t use to exact revenge, asserting that, “America does not take strikes to punish individuals.”