A U.S. drone strike killed six people in a Pakistani province where local leaders opposing such attacks are threatening to block a key supply route for American forces in Afghanistan.
The drone fired two to three missiles at an Islamic seminary in the Tal area of Hangu district in northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province near Afghanistan, Deputy Commissioner Ahmed Jan said by telephone. Jan, who also gave the death toll, said all those killed were Afghans.
U.S. drones have usually targeted the lawless tribal belt closer to the Afghan border, making the latest attack unusual. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which controls the province, plans to block on Nov. 23 a key supply route for foreign troops in Afghanistan after a drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban earlier this month, disrupting peace talks.
“We will announce at the protest on Saturday that we will permanently block supply route until they stop drone attacks,” Imran Khan, the party’s leader and a former cricketer, said today in a televised press conference. “If it’s in our hand we will block it today. Our powers are that we can tell them that NATO supply can’t pass through our province.”
The government “strongly condemns” today’s drone strike as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the foreign ministry said in an e-mailed statement from Islamabad. “There is an across the board consensus in Pakistan that these drone strikes must end.”
The latest attack has made this weekend’s protest “even more imperative,” said Shireen Mazari, central information secretary of PTI, which emerged as the third-largest political party in this year’s general elections won by the party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“The attack in Hangu means that the Americans have declared war against all of Pakistan,” Mazari said. “We want to ask whether our government and military were sleeping while Pakistan was attacked or are they complicit in these attacks?”
There are two supply routes in Pakistan used for trucking non-lethal supplies for the American-led forces in Afghanistan. The second route runs through the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
Any prolonged disruption of the key route in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province could inhibit the U.S.’s ability to remove troops, weapons and equipment as part of the plan to withdraw most of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
“This protest will be largely symbolic and likely not last more than one day,” the ISAF joint command said in an e-mailed response today. “It should have minimal to no impact on ISAF’s supply mission.”
The U.S. has faced difficulties in transporting military equipment into and out of Afghanistan in the last two years. In November 2011, Pakistan shut down the two supply routes for seven months after an American helicopter attack accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The latest drone strike risks further inflaming anti-U.S. public sentiment in Pakistan, where such attacks are seen as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and have strained ties between the government and the Obama administration.
After a Nov. 1 drone attack that killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, the Pakistan government said it would review “every aspect” of cooperation with the Obama administration.
While the U.S. trumpeted the death of Mehsud, indicted in the U.S. three years ago for his alleged role in a suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan in 2009, Pakistan said it scuttled efforts to bring militants to the negotiating table to end more than a decade of violence.
The U.S. conveyed to Pakistan after Mehsud’s death that there would be no drone attacks on Taliban militants while they were talking to the Pakistan government, Sartaj Aziz, Sharif’s adviser on security and foreign affairs, was quoted as telling a parliamentary panel on Wednesday, the News reported today.