Omar Waraich: Outraged in public, yet Pakistan quietly approves

The criticism creates real problems for us in terms of the Pakistani public and helps create real animosity
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Dead or alive? Pakistan was abuzz with that question yesterday hours after reports proliferated, suggesting that the Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud may have been among the dozen killed when missiles fired from a CIA-operated drone exploded in a militant hideout. If the strike found its target, it would mark the second time that Washington's covert and controversial assassination policy has slain Pakistan's worst enemies.

Last August, similar firepower was deployed to kill Baitullah Mehsud, the founder of the Pakistani Taliban and the suspected assassin of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Hakimullah's death would be sweet revenge for the US spy agency after he claimed credit for the suicide bombing by a Jordanian double agent which killed seven CIA officials on 30 December 30. It would also represent a major boon for Pakistan. Under his command, the Taliban has unleashed a wave of terror that has killed over 500 innocent people across the country since October.

Not that Pakistan is likely to express any gratitude, at least in public. Indeed, Islamabad ritually denounces the drone attacks as a violation of its sovereignty, while quietly acquiescing in them. Indeed, the drones are believed to take off from within Pakistan itself.

This week US Senator Carl Levin complained about Pakistan's complaining. While it suits Pakistan to attack such strikes in a bid to contain public outrage, he said, such criticism, "creates real problems for us in terms of the Pakistani public and helps create some real animosity towards us – a sense of revenge, the implication that we're violating Pakistan's sovereignty."

Patience is wearing thin in Washington. Top US military commanders in Afghanistan reckon that if the Haqqanis and Mullah Omar continue to operate out of Pakistan unimpeded, it could seriously compromise their mission. In response the US could expand the area of drone attacks. If that happens, and deadly missiles begin raining down around the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leaderships is suspected to be hiding, Pakistani outrage could be too great to contain.