ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s government met senior U.S. officials Friday to discuss the fallout from a May 21 drone attack that killed Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour, while the family of the taxi driver who died alongside Mansour demanded justice.
Peter Lavoy, head of Washington’s South Asia desk at the National Security Council and Richard Olson, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, met with Pakistani civilian and military leaders in the first high level exchange since the drone strike, according to Pakistan’s foreign ministry.
In a statement following their meeting, Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s special adviser on foreign affairs, said the discussions were candid. According to the statement, the two sides restated their positions. Pakistan affirmed that the drone strike breached its sovereignty and compromised an already stalled Afghan peace process; and the United States reiterated its accusation that Pakistan is providing safe havens for the Taliban in Pakistan.
At the time of the drone attack, Mansour was travelling with a Pakistani passport and identity card, infuriating the U.S. and Afghanistan who said this was proof of the ease with which Taliban fighters are travelling throughout Pakistan.
Mansour’s taxi driver, Mohammed Azam, was also killed in the attack. His family said they were outraged that they have not yet received an apology from the United States or recognition of Azam’s innocence. As a result, they have gone to the police, demanding justice.
In the police report, a copy of which The Associated Press acquired, his elder brother Qasim said Mohammad Azam was innocent of any crime. He said Mohammad was not aware of the identity of his passenger and demanded that the police and local Baluchistan provincial government officials conduct an investigation to identify the culprits. He called for “justice.”
The police complaint doesn’t define what form that justice should take, but in a handwritten note at the bottom of the complaint one local official wrote that he had begun an investigation.
In a telephone interview with AP from his home in the town of Taftan, close to the Iranian border, Qasim said his 33-year-old brother had worked as a taxi driver for most of his adult life, earning roughly 20,000 rupees (about $200) a month.
It was just his bad luck that his final passenger turned out to be the Taliban chief, Qasim said.
It had been a morning like every other for Azam, recalled his brother. He showed up for work at the only taxi company in Taftan, his arid, dust-clogged hometown, shortly after 8 a.m. His first passenger of the day had just walked across the border from Iran — which wasn’t unusual. Hundreds of people cross daily between Iran and Pakistan at Taftan.
He was told to take the bushy bearded Pashtun to Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s largest and least populated province of Baluchistan, some 650 kilometers (380 miles) away.
What Azam wasn’t told, and what he didn’t know, was that his passenger was the Taliban chief and that U.S. drones had been tracking him.
They had just reached Ahmadwal, about 25 kilometers (13 miles) from Quetta, when the U.S. drone slammed into his vehicle. Azam and his Taliban passenger died instantly. His car was reduced to a smoldering wreck.
Qasim said he received a call from local police forces in the afternoon informing him that his brother was dead and telling him to come and collect the body.
It wasn’t until he arrived at the hospital in Quetta that he was told how his brother died.
Azam has four young children. His eldest, a daughter, is seven and his youngest is three years old.
Like many people in Pakistan, Azam lived in a single compound with his parents and brothers, their wives and children.
Qasim said that he too had driven a taxi until 2012, when ill health forced him to quit. “After the death of my brother life for our family is very difficult,” he said. “My mother is sick and one brother is disabled.” Azam’s two eldest children are in primary school but the family is deciding whether they can afford to keep them enrolled.
Qasim said his brother had never had any affiliation with the Taliban. “Our family members have no sympathy with Pakistani or Afghan Taliban. Even we don’t support religious parties in the elections,” he said.
Qasim’s family has always voted for the left-of-center Pakistan People’s Party because “we are living in a tribal society and our tribal chief” is a member of that party, his brother said. The first woman head of a Muslim state, Benazir Bhutto, led the Pakistan People’s Party until her assassination in 2007.
Qasim said he wants both the Pakistan and U.S. government to recognize his brother’s innocence and financially compensate the family for their loss.
“How can you just kill an innocent person?” he said.
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