Malik denies presence of Taliban leadership in Quetta despite US rage

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

KARACHI - There is no top leadership of Taliban in Quetta, and the Pakistan government will take immediate action if any evidence of its presence is provided, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Monday.

Malik made these comments while talking to media persons after visiting the CID building, The Nation reported.

Meanwhile, the United States has renewed its pressure on Pakistan to expand the areas where CIA drones can operate inside the country, reflecting the concern that the US war effort in Afghanistan is being undermined by the insurgents’ continued ability to take sanctuary across the border, US and Pakistani officials said.

The officials said that although the US appeal has focused on the area surrounding the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is thought to be based, it also seeks to expand the boundaries for drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have been targeted in 101 attacks this year.

US officials confirmed the request for expanded drone flights, citing concern that Quetta functions not only as a sanctuary for Taliban leaders but also as a base for sending money, recruits and explosives to Taliban forces inside Afghanistan, according to a newspaper report.

“If they understand our side, they know the patience is running out,” a senior NATO military official said.

Although the CIA’s drone campaign in the country has accelerated dramatically in recent months, Pakistan places strict boundaries on where CIA drones can fly. The unmanned aircraft may patrol designated flight “boxes” over the country’s tribal belt but not other provinces, including Balochistan, which encompasses Quetta.

While Pakistani officials stressed that Quetta is a densely populated city where an errant strike is more likely to kill innocent civilians, potentially provoking a backlash, US officials have long suspected that there are other reasons for Islamabad’s aversion, including the concern that US drones might be used to conduct surveillance of Pakistani nuclear weapons facilities in Balochistan, according to the report.

The disagreement over the scope of the drone program underscores broader tensions between the United States and Pakistan, wary allies that are increasingly pointing fingers at one another over the rising levels of insurgent violence on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, it added.

The two sides disagree sharply over the importance of the Quetta Shura, the leadership council led by Mullah Mohammed Omar that presides over the Afghan Taliban. Some senior Pakistani officials refuse to use the term “Quetta Shura,” calling it a US construct designed to embarrass Pakistan, according to the newspaper report.

“I’m not denying the individual presence of members” of the Taliban in or near Quetta, a senior Pakistani military official said. “But to create the impression there is a body micromanaging the affairs of the Afghan Taliban . . . is very far-fetched.” (ANI)

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