Filed under: Indian Subcontinent
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15 February 2009
Source: The Hindu
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan was on Saturday up against the double-shock of a U.S. missile strike in its tribal areas that killed at least 27 people and a threat by the kidnappers of a UNHCR official to kill him unless their demands are met within 72 hours.
Apparently dismissive of the Pakistan leadership’s concerns that missile strikes by U.S. Predator aircraft in violation of Pakistani sovereignty are “counter-productive”, an American drone struck in South Waziristan, a tribal area on the Afghan border.The unmanned aircraft fired two missiles that reportedly hit a militant camp belonging to Beithullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella group of militant organisations.
According to local media reports, the death toll in the strike on the building in Ladha, including local and foreign militants, is at least 27. Geo Television said 32 people were killed.
Taliban militants immediately cordoned off the destroyed building and would not allow anyone near it. “High-value” targets are believed to be among the dead, but this is impossible to ascertain.
This is the third U.S. missile strike in Pakistani territory after President Barack Obama took office, belying hopes that the new administration would halt the strikes.
The latest strike came two days after a visit by U.S. special representative Richard Holbrooke, who was told by all Pakistani leaders he met that the drone attacks must end, as they were fuelling anti-American sentiment and providing the Taliban more recruits to their cause.
But the waters are muddy with persistent reports that the Pakistani leadership is complicit in the attacks.
On Friday, a U.S. Congresswoman told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the drones flew out of a Pakistan airbase. Expressing surprise over Pakistan’s opposition to the campaign of Predator-launched CIA missile strikes against targets inside the Pakistani border, Senator Diane Feinstein said: “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base.”
Meanwhile, the government has pushed itself into overdrive to recover John Solecki, the UNHCR official kidnapped in Quetta two weeks ago. Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik flew to the Balochistan capital to review efforts to track down the kidnappers, after they released a videotape of the U.S. national and gave the government a 72-hour deadline to meet their demands or threatened to kill him.
A previously unknown organisation called Balochistan Liberation United Front has claimed responsibility for the abduction. If this claim is not a bluff, it would be the first time Baloch nationalists have targeted a foreigner in their insurgency against the Pakistani state.
Mr. Solecki headed the UNHCR office in Quetta and was seized on his way to office. The driver of his vehicle was killed in the incident.
The group says it wants 141 Baloch women released from the custody of security forces, and demanded the government produce 6,000 Baloch nationalist political workers who it claims are missing.
Mr. Malik said in Quetta no women had been taken into custody and that many of the missing persons were in militant camps in Afghanistan where they were being trained for the insurgency.
The videotape shows a blindfolded person, believed to be Mr. Solecki, seeking U.N. help for his early release.
“My message to the United Nations. I am not feeling well. I am sick. I am in trouble. Please help to resolve the problem soon, so I can gain my release,” Mr. Solecki said.
An unidentified man rang a Quetta journalist on Friday and asked him to collect the tape from the city post office.