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Drone Strike Strains US-Pakistani Talks on Afghanistan

A car is seen on fire at the site of a drone strike believed to have killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akthar Mansur in southwest Pakistan on May 21.

ISLAMABAD, The U.S. drone attack that killed the Afghan Taliban’s leader last month in Pakistan damaged "mutual trust" between Islamabad and Washington, intensified hostilities in Afghanistan and seriously set back peace efforts for that war-ravaged country, a Pakistani authority said on the eve of new talks.

As senior U.S. officials and their Pakistani counterparts prepare to meet Friday, the Pakistani prime minister's adviser on foreign policy, Sartaj Aziz, said the drone attack put fresh strains on the already uneasy U.S.-Pakistani relations. He predicted the issue would have "long-lasting implications."

The U.S. delegation visiting Islamabad includes Peter Lavoy, senior director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. National Security Council, and Richard Olson, the U.S. special representative to the two neighboring countries.

Topic No. 1 at their meeting is the May 21 drone attack that killed Afghan Taliban Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Traveling under a pseudonym following a secret trip to Iran, Mansoor was driving through Pakistan's border province of Baluchistan when his vehicle was destroyed by rockets fired by unmanned U.S. aircraft.

Pakistani authorities contend that Mansoor had been about to agree to join peace talks between the warring sides in Afghanistan at the time he was killed. Aziz told reporters Thursday his government believes the drone strike had only "negative consequences... no positive things."

“Not only has it violated our sovereignty," the Pakistani foreign policy adviser said, "but it has damaged the trust in our relationship with America, and it has also undermined the peace process in Afghanistan.”

Islamabad acknowledges that insurgent leaders are among nearly 3 million Afghan refugees now living in Pakistan – for years, in some cases – but denies that Pakistani intelligence supports Taliban-led violence in Afghanistan.

Obstacles to peace talks

Pakistan has encountered many difficulties in trying to arrange peace talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government, Aziz said, in part because there is “no unanimity of views” within Afghanistan on whether Kabul should engage in peace talks with the Taliban.

Pakistan is determined to play whatever role it can to facilitate peace talks, Aziz said: "Our message for the Afghan government is that you need to show patience and send messages to the Taliban to let them know what will they gain if they come to the table for peace talks.”

-- Reported by the Voice of America