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Pakistan PM condemns 'senseless force'

A photo taken on November 26, 2008, shows Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud speaking to journalists in Pakistan's Orakzai Agency
Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud speaks to a group of media representatives in the Mamouzai area of Orakzai Agency on November 26, 2008

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday warned peace could not be achieved "by unleashing senseless force", in his first public speech since a US drone killed Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

The killing of Mehsud on Friday as government representatives prepared to meet his Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction triggered a furious response from Islamabad while Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the strike "took place at an unsuitable time".

Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar on Saturday accused Washington of sabotaging peace efforts with the drone strike.

"My government is firmly resolved to bringing the cycle of bloodshed and violence to an end," Sharif said.

"But it cannot be done overnight, nor can it be done by unleashing senseless force... without first making every effort to bring the misguided... elements of society back to the mainstream," he added in his speech after army exercises near Bahawalpur in Punjab province.

Pakistani activists of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) burn a US flag in Karachi, on November 1, 2013, during a protest against drone attacks in the tribal regions
Activists of the banned Pakistan charity organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) torch a US flag during a protest against US drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal regions, in Karachi on November 1, 2013

Sharif came to power in May partly on a pledge to hold talks to try to end the TTP's bloody insurgency that has fuelled instability in the nuclear-armed nation.

Sharif later chaired a cabinet meeting in Islamabad where he slammed US drone strikes and said "the dialogue for peace will not be allowed to be derailed", according to a statement from his office.

The statement comes after a furious Nisar said "every aspect" of Islamabad's ties with Washington would be reviewed.

Anti-American sentiment runs deep in Pakistan and drone strikes are hugely unpopular, with many criticising them both for civilian deaths and as a violation of sovereignty.

Gunmen attacked and torched two NATO oil tankers in southwest Pakistan on Monday, seriously wounding one of the drivers.

US President Barack Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hold a meeting inside the White House in Washington, on October 23, 2013
US President Barack Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hold a meeting inside the White House in Washington, on October 23, 2013

Afghan leader Karzai meanwhile told a US Congress delegation visiting Kabul he hoped the peace process, still at an embryonic stage, did not suffer as a result, according to a statement released by his office late Sunday.

The TTP operate separately from the Afghan Taliban but notionally pledge allegiance to the same leader, Mullah Omar.

Karzai has been seeking to open peace talks with the Afghan Taliban to end 12 years of war, but the Islamist militants have refused to negotiate with his appointees, dismissing him as a puppet of Washington.

'Attack on sovereignty'

Opposition parties led by Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party have demanded the government close Pakistan's roads to convoys supplying NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The party has said it will block NATO convoys in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where it is in power, which would cut off one of the main crossing points into Afghanistan.

File picture shows Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai during a press conference in Kabul on October 7, 2013
File picture shows Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai during a press conference in Kabul on October 7, 2013

Pakistan blocked NATO convoys for seven months in 2012 after a botched US air raid killed 24 troops.

With NATO withdrawing 87,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year after 12 years of war, the ground supply lines through Pakistan are of vital importance.

Meanwhile, Defence of Pakistan Council, a coalition of around 40 religious and political parties, said it will hold countrywide protests on Friday against the drone strike that killed Mehsud.

"This is an attack on the sovereignty of the country," DPC chairman Maulana Sami ul-Haq, who runs a madrassa that has educated several Taliban leaders, told reporters.

Hafiz Saeed, who heads Jamaat-ud-Dawa, seen as a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, said the US had imposed a war on Pakistan through drone strikes.

However, after the recent heated rhetoric, Sharif and his government must weigh the practicalities of their response carefully in the light of improving relations with a vital financial partner.

Last month US President Barack Obama welcomed Sharif to the White House and the State Department announced the release of $1.6 billion in aid, including $1.38 billion for the country's powerful military.

The money had been frozen as relations plummeted amid a series of crises in 2011 and 2012 including the US raid to kill Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan -- carried out without Pakistani knowledge.

Washington has said the issue of whether to negotiate with the TTP was an internal matter for Pakistan but stressed the US and Pakistan had "a vital, shared strategic interest in ending extremist violence".

The TTP announced on Sunday that Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, the head of the militants' supreme council, had been appointed temporary leader while a permanent replacement for Mehsud is chosen.

Bhittani, who was seen as close to Mehsud, has been touted as a potential permanent replacement, as has the movement's number two Khan Said, alias Sajna.

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