Pakistan’s Al Qaeda-linked Taliban claimed responsibility on Monday afternoon for the killing earlier in the day of a Saudi diplomat who was in a car near the Saudi Arabia consulate in Karachi.
“We take responsibility,” a Taliban spokesman said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Even as the incident occurred, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the powerful United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, held talks with Pakistani leaders about the deteriorating bilateral relations between the two countries. Mr. Kerry later said that Pakistan had agreed to take several serious steps in its efforts to combat terrorism.
In an unusual joint Pakistani American statement negotiated Monday afternoon at a meeting attended by President Asif Ali Zardari and General Kayani, the main demand of the Pakistanis appeared to be a pledge that the United States had “no designs against Pakistan’s nuclear and strategic assets,” according to The New York Times.
“Senator Kerry stated that he was prepared to personally affirm such a guarantee,” the statement said.
The Taliban spokesman, meanwhile, said: “Until America stops chasing Al Qaeda and stops drone strikes we will keep carrying out such attacks.” He was referring to US attacks with pilotless aircraft on militants in northwest Pakistan.
Pakistani authorities said Monday evening that two US missiles struck an area near the Afghan border. Seven militants were killed, officials said, but did not elaborate on how they had been identified as militants.
Gunmen on two motorcycles shot at a car belonging to Saudi Arabia’s consulate. Authorities identified the victim as Hassan al-Qahtani, assistant to the Saudi Consul in Pakistan. He said that security forces blocked roads leading to both the Saudi and Bahraini consulates in Karachi’s upscale al-Defaa neighborhood.
“We condemn this attack. No one who carries out this kind of attack can be a Muslim,” the Saudi ambassador, Abdul Aziz al-Ghadeer, told Reuters. He did not give details on the rank of the diplomat who was killed.
In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia formally condemned what it described as a “criminal attack” that killed one of its diplomats and said it would investigate alongside Pakistani authorities, the state news agency said.
A Saudi foreign ministry official said that the kingdom will increase security for its diplomats in countries considered as danger zones, starting in Pakistan.
“We will start with Pakistan, but if security is needed in other countries, we won’t hesitate,” said the official, who declined to be named. He declined to specify which countries might see heightened security measures.
Reuters initially cited a police official as saying that the attack was launched by unidentified gunmen on the car of the Saudi national, who was a member of the security team of the Saudi consulate in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and commercial capital.
“Four people riding on two motorcycles opened fire at the car from two sides,” said a police official.
“The Saudi national killed was himself driving the car and was probably going to the consulate from his house,” he said.
Last Wednesday, two grenades were thrown at the Saudi consulate in Karachi, but no injuries were reported.
Both incidents could be in retaliation to the killing of Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden by US Special Forces in Pakistan on May 2.
Al Qaeda has been long opposed to the Saudi monarchy, even though Bin Laden hailed from the country and was a scion of a leading business family there. The terrorist group has vowed to avenge his death.
Saudi Arabia expelled Bin Laden in 1991 and later revoked his nationality. The government in Riyadh, which is allied to the authorities in Islamabad, welcomed his killing as a boost to international anti-terror efforts.
Pakistan has been in the grip of a domestic and international crisis since US Navy SEALs flew in, seemingly undetected, from Afghanistan to identify and kill the Al Qaeda terror mastermind at a compound in the cantonment of Abbottabad, about 35 miles from Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad.
Jane Perlez of The New York Times wrote:
Senator John Kerry attempted Monday to lower the temperature in the fraught American Pakistani relationship in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden raid, saying that the two sides would work together despite the anti-American clamor by the Pakistani government in the past two weeks.
Mr. Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has argued that it would be foolhardy for the United States to cut assistance to Pakistan, said that Pakistan had agreed to take “several immediate steps” to show its seriousness. These included returning the tail of the helicopter that crashed on the night of the Bin Laden raid.
But on the major differences at hand Mr. Kerry declined to specify what if any progress had been made.
On the key issue of whether Pakistan would stop assisting the Haqqani network, whose forces keep sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas and cross into Afghanistan to kill American and NATO soldiers, Mr. Kerry offered little light.
The senator, who came to Pakistan with the backing of the White House, said he had discussed the presence of the Haqqani forces in Pakistan, as well as Pakistan’s support for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and for Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Afghan Taliban, with the head of the Pakistan army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the head of the Inter Services Intelligence, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha.
“We discussed every single one of them,” he said, adding that Pakistani action against them would help the United States end the war in Afghanistan. But he was not willing, he said, to talk in public about these issues that the Pakistani military has shown little interest in resolving.
Mr. Kerry visited Khost Province in Afghanistan Sunday where American commanders briefed him on the Pakistani insurgents coming across the order. It appeared that Mr. Kerry planned to use that evidence in his discussions Monday with the Pakistani leadership.
The Pakistani military has complained bitterly that the Americans did not inform them in advance of the Bin Laden raid, and part of Mr. Kerry’s mission involved soothing wounded feelings, and papering over American officials’ statements that Pakistan could not be trusted with advance knowledge.
Pakistani officials have said they had no idea that Bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist leader, was living in a compound in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, where Navy Seal commandos killed him in a May 2 raid. “Even in the U.S. government, very few people knew about it,” the joint statement said of the Bin Laden operation.
The senator, who is the author of the major $7.5 billion package of civilian aid to Pakistan, said he had warned the Pakistani leadership of the “grave” worry in Congress about the presence of Bin Laden in Pakistan.
Those concerns were putting future aid in peril, he said.
Mr. Kerry’s calming tone was apparently echoed Monday when editors of some of Pakistan’s newspapers met with General Kayani.
In contrast to the strong anti-American presentation to parliament by General Pasha last Friday, General Kayani said that Pakistan would continue a relationship with the United States because otherwise the country risked becoming isolated, said an editor who attended, but who declined to be named because the matter was politically delicate.
“Pakistan understood the limits of its own reach,” was the basic message of Gen. Kayani, the editor said.
Moreover, Pakistan needed to remain on good terms with the United States in order to have its say in the settlement of the nearly 10-year-old war in Afghanistan, the general said, according to the editor’s account.
(Abeer Tayel, an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: email@example.com)