Mullah Mansour’s gone, but who else is hiding in Pakistan?
Time and again Pakistan has denied the presence of high-profile terrorists on its soil, and time and again the US has targeted them inside Pakistan. Should former Taliban chief Mansour’s death be a lesson for Islamabad?
On Wednesday, June 1, Pakistan’s army chief Raheel Sharif said the US drone strikes within the South Asian nation’s territory were a violation of his country’s sovereignty. They “must stop,” he insisted.
The general was referring to the US aerial attack on May 21 that killed the former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in the western Balochistan province near Afghanistan.
At first, the Pakistani authorities denied that Mansour was killed in the US drone strike along with his driver.
But on Sunday, May 29, the Islamic country’s interior ministry announced that a DNA test confirmed that Mansour had been killed in the attack.
“All indicators” confirm that Mansour was killed while travelling under a false name with fake Pakistani identity documents and a passport, according to the foreign ministry.
That means the feared Taliban leader, who was responsible for killing scores of civilians and government troops in Afghanistan, had actually been living in Pakistan and travelling back and forth to different countries in the region using Pakistan as his base.
Many Pakistani analysts and commentators, however, criticize the drone attack, accusing Washington of violating their nation’s sovereignty.
The curious case of Mullah Mansour and Pakistan’s much-touted sovereignty took a dramatic turn over the weekend when the security agencies arrested two government officials for allegedly issuing the former insurgent leader a national identity card.
One man named Sarfaraz Hussain was arrested from Quetta – capital of the Balochistan province – and the other, Rafat Iqbal, from the southern port city of Karachi.
Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said Thursday, June 2, that Mullah Mansour had obtained not only an identification card and passport, but also a local residence certificate under the name Wali Mohammad.
According to an FIA official, the certificate, which was issued in 1999, showed that Mohammad was a resident of Qila Abdullah district in Balochistan. “We have initiated an investigation into the issuance of the certificate,” the official said.
Mansour had allegedly entered Pakistan from Iran using Wali Mohammad’s documents when his car was hit by the US missile.
“It is really embarrassing for the authorities that Mullah Mansour was killed inside Pakistan. Now the authorities cannot say they had no knowledge about Mansour’s presence inside the country. If the government did not know about his whereabouts, what role can it play in Afghan peace talks?” questioned Talat Masud, a retired Pakistani general and security expert.
“If Pakistan is angry over the US drone strike, then Washington also has the right to ask why Islamabad provided shelter to Mansour,” Masud added.
It is not the first time that a high-profile terrorist has been found inside Pakistan, or who had been living in the South Asian country for a number of years. It is also not the first time that Islamabad has criticized the US for breaching its territorial integrity.
Afghanistan’s spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, confirmed shortly after the Taliban announced the death of their founder and former chief Mullah Omar that the militant had died in the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2013.
“He (Omar) was very sick in a Karachi hospital and had died suspiciously there,” Abdul Hassib Seddiqi, spokesman for the Afghan intelligence agency, told reporters in July last year.
On May 2, 2011, American Special Forces unilaterally raided a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad and killed Osama bin Laden – the former head of al Qaeda – who had been hiding in the garrison town for around six years. The Pakistani military and civilian government protested against the raid, saying the US violated its sovereignty.
“Five years ago, bin Laden was killed inside Pakistan, but a commission investigating the case gave a clean chit to the military leadership and civilian government. The Supreme Court should have taken notice of Mansour’s death and ordered an independent inquiry in to it, but it didn’t,” Tauseef Ahmed, a former lecturer at the Islamabad-based Federal Urdu University, told DW, adding that Pakistan continued to evade self-accountability.
What to expect from Islamabad now?
It is a positive sign that Pakistani authorities have finally launched an investigation into Mullah Mansour’s death, say observers. The Taliban have already appointed their new leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada – a little-known figure who had served as Mansour’s deputy and a military court judge for the insurgent group.
One of Akhundzada’s deputies is Sirajuddin Haqqani. His Pakistan-based Haqqani network has been blamed for high-profile suicide attacks in Afghanistan and has the alleged backing of Islamabad. Washington considers the group a terrorist outfit, and recently it urged Pakistani authorities to launch a military operation against it.
But so far, Pakistan – particularly the country’s military establishment – has been reluctant to act against the Haqqanis.
Pakistan is a key player in Afghan peace talks, and its cooperation with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government is considered vital. It can also use its influence on Haqqani to bring the militant group to the negotiating table.
After the latest embarrassment the country had to face following Mullah Mansour’s death, analysts say Islamabad should stop playing a “cat and mouse game” with Afghan authorities and Washington.
“Supporting this or that group is not in our national interest,” said security analyst Masud. “What are we gaining from it? Pakistan hasn’t achieved anything following this policy.”
Additional reporting by Sattar Khan, DW’s Islamabad correspondent.