Just hours after a top Pakistani official told a Senate body that the US administration had assured the Pakistani government that it would not carry out drone attacks during the talks process with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), missiles fired from a US drone struck a madrassa in Thal town of Hangu district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province early on Thursday, killing at least six people.
Three missiles hit the Madrassa Tafheem Ul Quran, destroying various parts of the seminary and killing at least six people besides leaving eight others seriously injured. Officials told Pakistan Today that the dead included Maulana Ghazi Marjan, Maulana Hamid Ullah, Maulana Abdul Rehman and Maulana Abdullah.
Sources said that the dead and injured also included foreign militants. They said that the madrassa was known to be visited by senior members of the Afghan Haqqani Network and two Afghan militants from the feared group were also among those killed in the attack.
Police officer Zia Khan told a foreign news agency that five Afghans were killed in the attack, including three students and two teachers.
Hangu police chief Iftikhar Ahmad said two of the dead, Maulana Hameedullah and Mufti Ahmad Jan, were members of the Haqqani Network. An Afghan intelligence official also confirmed Jan was killed in the attack.
It was only the second drone attack to occur outside Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border since the strikes began in the country in 2004 and could increase tension between Islamabad and Washington. There was a strike in Khyber Pakhtunkwa’s Bannu district in 2008. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is considered a “settled area” of Pakistan, meaning it is generally more populated and developed than the tribal region.
Madrassa Tafheem Ul Quran was set up seven years ago in the Tandar area, adjacent to Thal town by Qari Noor Ullah a religious figure from North Waziristan Agency. The area was earlier designated as a refugee camp for Afghans displaced by war in their country and it is still predominantly inhabited by Afghan nationals even after rescinding of the refugee camp status.
GOVERNMENT PROTESTS ATTACK:
The Foreign Office issued a routine condemnation of the drone strike, protesting that such attacks were against the sovereignty of Pakistan and jeopardized efforts to restore peace in the violence marred country.
In Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Health Minister Shaukat Yousafzai said: “Now no place is safe. The drones are now firing missiles outside the tribal areas. It is Hangu today. Tomorrow it can be Karachi, Lahore or any other place.”
Thursday’s strike was also the first drone attack since the US killed former Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud on Nov. 1 in a strike in the North Waziristan tribal area. Pakistani officials were outraged by the attack because they said it came a day before they planned to invite Mehsud to hold peace talks.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security Sartaj Aziz told the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs that the Obama Administration had assured Pakistan that it would not conduct drone attacks during pace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
The covert CIA drone programme in Pakistan has been a constant source of tension between Islamabad and Washington. Pakistani officials regularly denounce the strikes in public as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. But the government is known to have supported at least some of the attacks in the past. It is generally understood that Pakistan’s secret agreement with the US on drone strikes in the past was confined to the tribal region and did not include the country’s “settled areas”.
The Pakistani government has stepped up its vocal opposition to drone attacks since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office in June. Sharif met with President Barack Obama in Washington in October and pressed him to end the strikes. But the US has shown no sign that it intends to stop using what it considers a vital tool to fight al Qaida and the Taliban.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, whose party is in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has called for Pakistan to block trucks carrying supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan in response to continued drone strikes. The federal government has shown little interest in doing so, but Khan plans to hold a strike on November 23 and block the road through the province that some of the trucks take.