Hakimullah Mehsud: Imran Khan seeks Nato blockade over killing

Imran Khan: "This was a deliberate targeting of the peace process"

Pakistani politician Imran Khan is threatening to blockade supply lines to Nato forces in Afghanistan if the US does not end drone strikes this month.

Mr Khan accused the US of sabotaging peace efforts with the Pakistani Taliban by killing its leader Hakimullah Mehsud last Friday.

"I mean are they a friend or an enemy?" the former cricketer asked the BBC.

He says he will organise protests on routes to and from Afghanistan if drone attacks do not end by 20 November.

Nato convoys through Pakistan carry more than half the food, fuel and other equipment needed by Western troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Start Quote

Would they deny a country which is sinking under this terrorism, would they deny us peace if they are our friend?”

End Quote Imran Khan

The BBC's Richard Galpin in Islamabad says the Americans are very unlikely to stop their drone strikes because they believe they are weakening the militant groups.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is opposed to the drones but does not want to damage relations with the US by blocking Nato's supply routes, our correspondent adds.

Hakimullah Mehsud was killed at a compound in the tribal region of North Waziristan near the Afghan border, just as the government in Islamabad hoped to get peace talks with the Taliban and other militants under way.

Mr Khan said there was no coincidence in the timing of Fridays' attack.

"Absolutely deliberate - this was a deliberate targeting of the peace process," he said in a BBC interview.

"The US clearly knew what was going on and everyone in Pakistan knew what was going on.

Supporters of Pakistani cricketer turned politician Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI - Movement for Justice) hold placards as they shout anti-US slogans during a protest in Islamabad on January 27, 2012, against US drone attacks Mr Khan has long campaigned against drones, but can he shut the roads?

"We'd been waiting for two months for this peace process to start and then finally when everyone had come to a consensus for peace, they destroyed the peace process.

"The people of Pakistan want peace so we will do whatever is in our hands - which is to block the supply to put pressure on the US to stop this madness, because all it's doing is fanning fanaticism."

Although a government delegation was set to visit North Waziristan to discuss possible peace talks, correspondents say that dialogue about peace was embryonic and the Taliban was known to be divided over the matter. Previous "peace" deals have all failed.

Mr Khan has led anti-drone protests in the past and his PTI party are in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north-west. But correspondents say any decision to close routes into and out of Afghanistan would have to come from the government in Islamabad.

In November 2011 a row with the US led to Pakistan barring Nato convoys from entering or leaving Afghanistan for seven months. The routes are vital as Nato prepares to withdraw all combat forces by the end of 2014, although it has other more expensive options via Central Asia.

Taliban replacement

Five days on from his death, the Taliban are still discussing Hakimullah Mehsud's successor.

Among the candidates named by local media as a potential replacement is Khan Said Sajna, a regional commander said to be open to the idea of peace talks.

But other candidates such as the hard-line Mullah Fazlullah, whose men shot and almost killed the schoolgirl and campaigner Malala Yousafzai and who is currently based in northern Afghanistan, were also said to be in the frame.

Has Mehsud's killing ended Pakistan's chance for peace?

BBC correspondents say the Pakistan Taliban are a loose and at times fractious group, and reaching an agreement on a new leader will test the ability of the senior commanders to work together.

For the moment the Taliban have said there will be no further peace talks as they say they have been "deceived" by the Pakistani government.

US bounty

Pakistan summoned the US ambassador over the weekend to protest over the drone strike.

But the US state department said talks with the Taliban were "an internal matter" for Pakistan and referred to Mehsud's alleged role in attacks on US citizens.

The US had a bounty of $5m on Mehsud's head. The state department described him as the head of the group which planned the failed bombing of Times Square in 2010, and said the Pakistani Taliban had a "symbiotic" relationship with al-Qaeda.

In a rare interview with the BBC weeks before his killing, Mehsud laid down his conditions for peace - including the introduction of a harsh and controversial version of Islamic law in Pakistan.

The strike came just a week after Prime Minister Sharif met US President Barack Obama for wide-ranging talks in which they pledged to strengthen ties between the nations, recently strained by the issue of drone strikes.

As well as Mehsud, a number of top militants have been killed by drones in recent years. The previous Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike in 2009.

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