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US killing of Taliban leader stirs anger, fear in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD — The Pakistani Taliban leader killed in a recent US drone strike was behind hotel bombings, assaults on political rallies, beheadings of police officers, and suicide attacks on soldiers. But his death elicited little joy in the country where he wreaked most of his havoc and instead stirred widespread anger and suspicion.

At the time of Friday’s strike targeting Hakimullah Mehsud, the Pakistani government was engaged in efforts to negotiate a peace deal with militants.

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Frustrated at years of military campaigns that have failed to end the bloodshed, many Pakistanis had high hopes for this latest peace effort and blame the United States for fouling it up.

Mehsud “should have been given the chance to negotiate, and now the consequences have to be borne by Pakistan, not the US,” said Syed Ahmed, a small business owner in the southern port city of Karachi.

Also contributing to the anger are fears of a bloody backlash, plus a web of complex conspiracy theories, including the idea that militants such as Mehsud are American or Indian pawns intent on weakening Pakistan.

As Pakistan’s leaders pledged to continue the peace effort, Pakistani Taliban commanders opened a meeting Saturday to choose a successor to Mehsud. The Taliban shura, or governing council, convened at a mosque in Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, and a decision is expected within days.

The Taliban buried Mehsud and six others in Danday Darpakhel, the village where they were killed.

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For years, Pakistan has been fighting militants in the tribal areas that border neighboring Afghanistan, with thousands of civilians and security forces dying in bombings and shootings at the hands of militants.

Mehsud, who had a reputation as an especially ruthless warrior, was the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, as it calls itself.

It is an umbrella group encompassing militant organizations across the tribal areas. It has called for the overthrow of the Pakistani government, the implementation of hard-line Islamic law, and an end to cooperation with the Americans in Afghanistan.

In many ways, people across Pakistan are echoing what they are hearing from politicians and top government officials. During a news conference Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan lashed out repeatedly at the United States, which he said was trying to scuttle peace talks.

Imran Khan, the former cricket star who now leads a key opposition party, threatened to close NATO supply lines in retaliation for the drone attack.

The United States and Pakistan are wary allies in the war against militancy. Suspicion in Pakistan against America runs deep, fueled by a perception that Pakistan’s militancy problems were foisted on it by the US invasion of Afghanistan, which pushed militants into the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan.

Many Pakistanis question why Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country, is at war with other Muslims and its own citizens.

Amir Sultan, a salesman at a garment business in Islamabad, said whenever Pakistan starts efforts to make peace with the Taliban, America sabotages it.

“It is an American agenda to destroy Pakistan,” he said. “It is in America’s interest to pit Muslim against Muslims.”

There is also suspicion that the United States and neighboring India — a longtime enemy — are directly promoting and funding militants as a way to weaken the country.

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