Pakistani minister resigns after criticizing army

Drone strikes kill 7 suspected militants

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s federal minister for defense production resigned after being summoned by the prime minister to explain comments he made criticizing the army and accusing it of killing prominent politicians, officials said Sunday.

Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi, the minister, accused the army of killing several high-profile Pakistani figures, including ethnic Baluch tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

“We provided the army with uniforms and boots not so that they kill their own fellow countrymen, kill Nawab Sahib (Bugti) and Benazir Bhutto,” said Mr. Jatoi during a televised press conference Saturday night in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani later summoned Mr. Jatoi to explain his comments. He told reporters Sunday that the minister made his statements “in his personal capacity, and within five or six hours he resigned.”

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told local TV that Mr. Jatoi’s comments were “against our policies.”

The army is widely considered the most powerful institution in Pakistan, and it is risky for officials to criticize it. The military has carried out three coups against civilian governments in Pakistan and has ruled the country for much of its 63-year history.

Bugti, the Baluch tribal leader, was killed in a August 2006 military operation. The 79-year-old Bugti’s remote cave hide-out collapsed in an unexplained explosion while security forces were searching for tribal insurgents who fight for a larger share of natural resources extracted from impoverished Baluchistan. The exact details of Bugti’s death are disputed.

Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007 after speaking at an election rally in a garrison city just outside Islamabad. The military-led government at the time blamed the killing on the Pakistani Taliban, which stages attacks throughout the country from its sanctuary in the tribal areas near the Afghan border. Critics in Pakistan speculated that the nation’s military or intelligence apparatus could have been involved in the killing, which the government refuted.

The tribal areas also host a range of militant groups focused on battling NATO troops in Afghanistan. The United States has stepped up pressure on these groups this month by carrying out 19 missile strikes, including two on Sunday — the most intense barrage since the attacks began in 2004.

In the first strike Sunday, a drone fired three missiles at a house in Datta Khel, part of the North Waziristan tribal area, killing three suspected militants, said Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Minutes later, a drone fired two missiles at a vehicle in the same area, killing four suspected militants, the officials said.

The exact identities of the seven people killed in the attacks were not known, but most of this month’s strikes have targeted forces led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a commander who once was supported by Pakistan and the United States during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Mr. Haqqani since has turned against the United States, and American military officials have said his network — now effectively led by his son, Sirajuddin — presents one of the greatest threats to foreign forces in Afghanistan. Another militant commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and his forces also hold sway in North Waziristan.

The United States wants Pakistan to launch an army offensive against insurgents in North Waziristan, but the government has resisted. Analysts believe Pakistan wants to maintain its historic relationship with the Haqqani network, which could be an ally in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

Without a Pakistani offensive, the United States has had to rely on CIA-operated drone strikes to target the network, which also has bases in eastern Afghanistan.

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