One very interesting sidelight to the
tragic death-by-drone (well, alleged death, there’s never a 100% certainty in these kinds of cases) of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour over the weekend involves Pakistan. Mansour was killed in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, see, and along with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar that makes three pretty serious enemies of the US and the Afghan government who all just coincidentally happened to be making themselves at home on Pakistani soil when they finally met their maker. Baluchistan has long been welcoming to the Taliban–the group’s governing council is called the Quetta Shura because it meets in the city of Quetta, which is in Baluchistan–but this is the first time anybody can seem to find that a US drone strike took place there, rather than in Afghanistan or in the largely uncontrolled Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan. Pakistani authorities have sort of turned a blind eye to US drone strikes in the FATA because many of the groups operating there are as much a problem for Islamabad as for anybody else, but they’ve always refused permission for the US to expand its targets into Baluchistan. Which explains why the US only informed Islamabad of the Mansour strike after it had been carried out.
Washington is defending its decision to bomb a Pakistani city without Pakistan’s permission (which, let’s be honest, is an act of war by almost any definition of the term) by arguing that Mansour was in the process of planning strikes against American targets in Kabul–so, self-defense. Islamabad has complained of the violation of its sovereignty, but notably it hasn’t complained very much, because at the end of the day the Pakistanis would like to maintain good relations with the US even if it means accommodating a drone strike every now and then. But the message to the Pakistanis seems pretty clear–the US is tired of Islamabad and its intelligence services harboring terrorist groups bent on attacking Americans and destabilizing Afghanistan. The Afghan government similarly seems to have reached its limit on that score. Mansour was a Pakistani client through and through (and if you want more intrigue, his suspiciously undamaged alleged passport was found at the scene of the strike supposedly bearing a recent visa from Iran, which may indicate that he’d recently been to Iran, perhaps to coordinate on fighting ISIS in Afghanistan), though it’s speculated that his unwillingness (or inability) to advance the ball on peace talks had put him on the outs with his Pakistani handlers. There’s enough uncertainty in this regard to support at least the theory that Pakistan, despite its public complaints and Washington’s insistence that it acted without informing Islamabad first, may actually have known about and privately gone along with the strike.
Does the Mansour strike auger more US strikes against Taliban targets in other parts of Pakistan outside the FATA? I guess it’s possible, although I doubt Washington wants to embarrass Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif much more than it already has, at least for now. But the strike probably does put Sharif on notice to stop allowing Pakistan to be used as a safe haven by the Afghan Taliban, or else more drone strikes like this one will be forthcoming.