Pakistan party protests drone strikes with politics

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LONDON -- The ruling party in a northwest province of Pakistan voted Monday to block NATO supply lines by Nov. 20 unless the United States stops its drone strikes in the nearby tribal belt.

Imran Khan, the cricketer turned politician whose Tehrik-i-Insaf party rules the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, sponsored a resolution regarding the supply lines in the provincial parliament in response to a CIA missile strike that killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, on Friday. The death of Mehsud has incited a furious reaction from Pakistani politicians, Mr. Khan foremost among them, claiming that the targeted killing had derailed incipient peace talks with the Taliban.

But Mr. Khan's resolution stopped short of imposing an immediate blockade.

Setting the Nov. 20 deadline was a means of building pressure on the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to end U.S. drone strikes, while buying time to avoid a tricky confrontation with Mr. Sharif's administration, which does not favor blocking NATO lines. In his first public remarks since Friday's lethal drone strike, Mr. Sharif said Monday that peace could not be achieved in Pakistan "by unleashing senseless force."

Unusually, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan backed Pakistan's protests, saying that the U.S. strike "took place at an unsuitable time." He told an American congressional delegation in Kabul on Sunday that he hoped the peace process would not suffer as a result.

Mr. Khan has led the tide of outrage in Pakistan since Friday, making heated accusations of U.S. sabotage of the peace process, and threatening to cut the NATO lines unless the drone campaign ends.

The United States, having weathered years of Pakistani criticism over the drone campaign, is unlikely to accede to his demand, although the pace of drone strikes has already dropped sharply this year.

The Taliban leadership, meanwhile, is meeting at an undisclosed location in North Waziristan to choose a successor to Mehsud. A rival commander named Khan Said is the favorite, but no final decision has been made.


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