Pakistani minister resigns after accusing country’s powerful army in killing of politicians

By Zarar Khan, AP
Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pakistani minister resigns after criticizing army

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s federal minister for defense production resigned after being summoned by the prime minister to explain comments he made criticizing the army and accusing it of killing prominent politicians.

Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi accused the army of killing several high-profile Pakistani figures, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and ethnic Baluch tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani later summoned Jatoi to explain his comments. He told reporters Sunday the minister made his statements “in his personal capacity, and within five or six hours he resigned.”

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told local TV that Jatoi’s comments were “against our policies.”

The army is widely considered the most powerful institution in Pakistan and it is risky for officials to criticize it. The military has carried out three coups against civilian governments in Pakistan and has ruled the country for much of its 63-year history.

Bugti, the Baluch tribal leader, was killed in an August 2006 military operation. The 79-year-old’s remote cave hide-out collapsed in an unexplained explosion while security forces were searching for tribal insurgents who fight for a larger share of natural resources extracted from impoverished Baluchistan. The exact details of Bugti’s death are disputed.

Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007 after speaking at an election rally in a garrison city just outside Islamabad. The military-led government at the time blamed the killing on the Pakistani Taliban, which stage attacks throughout the country from their sanctuary in the tribal areas near the Afghan border. Critics in Pakistan speculated the nation’s military or intelligence apparatus could have been involved in the killing, which the government refuted.

The tribal areas also host a range of militant groups focused on battling NATO troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. has stepped up pressure on these groups this month by carrying out 19 missile strikes, including two on Sunday — the most intense barrage since the attacks began in 2004.

In the first strike Sunday, a drone fired three missiles at a house in Datta Khel, part of the North Waziristan tribal area, killing three suspected militants, said Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Minutes later, a drone fired two missiles at a vehicle in the same area, killing four suspected militants, the officials said.

The exact identities of the seven people killed in the attacks were not known, but most of this month’s airstrikes have targeted forces led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a commander once supported by Pakistan and the U.S. during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Haqqani has since turned against the U.S., and American military officials have said his network — now effectively led by his son, Sirajuddin — presents one of the greatest threats to foreign forces in Afghanistan. Another militant commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and his forces also hold sway in North Waziristan.

The U.S. wants Pakistan to launch an army offensive against insurgents in North Waziristan, but the government has resisted. Analysts believe Pakistan wants to maintain its historic relationship with the Haqqani network, which could be an ally in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

The 19 missile strikes this month have killed around 90 people, according to an Associated Press tally based on Pakistani intelligence reports.

U.S. officials do not publicly acknowledge the drone attacks but have said privately they have killed several senior Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the region, which is largely out of the control of the Pakistani state.

Pakistan often criticizes the attacks as violations of the country’s sovereignty, but the government is widely believed to help the U.S. carry out the strikes. Criticism of the missile attacks has been more muted in recent months.


Associated Press writer Ishtiaq Mahsud contributed to this report from Dera Ismail Khan.

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