Taliban Leader Killed in a Drone Strike; Pakistan Launches Offensive Against Militants
The U.S. achieved an important victory over the Taliban with the November 2013 assassination of Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan. He died in a CIA drone strike in Danday Darpa Khel, a militant stronghold in North Waziristan. While the government expressed outrage that the U.S. overstepped its boundaries, many citizens indicated they were relieved about the death of a man whose group has destabilized and terrorized the country. The Pakistani Taliban is responsible for the death of thousands of Pakistanis mostly through suicide bombings and has been battling the country's army in the tribal belt. The drone program has come under fire in Pakistan and in the U.S., as opponents say the attacks have claimed far too many civilians. However, a report by Pakistan's defense ministry released days before Mehsud's death found that since 2008, the drone strikes had killed 2,160 militants and 67 civilians—far fewer civilians than expected. The government also said Mehsud's death may thwart plans to hold peace talks with the Taliban.
Days after Mehsud's death, the Taliban selected Mullah Fazlullah as their new leader. Fazlullah, known for his brutal tactics and as an ideologue, organized the attack on 14-year-old peace activist Malala Yousafzai. He said the Taliban would not enter into peace talks with the government.
Prime Minister Sharif named Lt. Gen. Raheel Sharif as head of the miliatry in November, just days before the retirement of Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The new military chief, a career infantry soldier, is not related to the prime minister. In recent history, the army chief has been considered the most powerful figure in the country.
Peace talks between the government and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the the umbrella organization of the country's network of militants, began in February 2014 but quickly fell apart without making much progress. The military then began a bombing campaign of militant hideouts in North Waziristan and the Khyber region. In March, the TTP reached out to the government, announcing a one-month cease-fire and a resumption of talks. The group ordered all militant groups in Pakistan to observe the cease-fire.
Sharif accepted an invitation to attend the May 2014 inauguration of Narendra Modi as India's prime minister. The two shook hands and exchanged pleasantries at the ceremony, a sign that there may be a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban launched a brazen overnight attack at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport, the largest and busiest airport in the country, in early June 2014. Ten militants infiltrated the airport and engaged in a gun battle with airport security and police. Thirty-six people were killed, including all ten gunmen. Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said the attack was "a response to the recent attacks by the government" and that such assaults would continue. He also said, "The main goal of this attack was to damage the government." The assault likely dealt a fatal blow to any hopes of peace negotiations between the government and the Taliban.
The military responded by attacking several militant hide-outs in the North Waziristan tribal region, a move long sought by the U.S. The attacks, however, resulted in the mass exodus of some 1 million civilians.
Imran Khan, the cricket star who lost to Prime Minister Sharif in the 2013 election, and cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri called on their supporters in Aug. 2014 to protest against Sharif and demand his resignation, saying the 2013 election was rigged. International observers had deemed the election largely fair. Protesters took to the streets of Islamabad, and after several days boldly entered the city's "red zone," which houses Parliament, the prime minister's house, and foreign embassies. Sharif restrained police, allowing protesters to proceed into the area. The protests turned violent on Aug. 31, when the demonstrators attempted to attack the prime minister's residence. Police used rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters, who attacked police with sticks and rocks. Three protesters died in the violence.
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