Pakistan’s interior minister has said the death of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud has destroyed the country’s nascent peace process.
“This is not just the killing of one person, it’s the death of all peace efforts,” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said.
Pakistan’s security forces have been put on high alert following the US drone strike on Friday.
It came a day before a government delegation had been due to fly to North Waziristan to meet Mehsud.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had pledged to talk with the Taliban to try to end its campaign of violence, which has left thousands dead in bombings and shootings across the country.
Hakimullah Mehsud was killed a day before Pakistani officials say they were scheduled to send a three-member team to start peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told a local TV news channel, Geo, that the drone strike was an attempt to “sabotage” Pakistan’s peace talks with Taliban.
But many believe Mehsud’s death will leave the field open for groups that are known to have publicly favoured a rapprochement with Pakistan.
One of these groups is headed by Khan Said Sajna, the successor of Waliur Rehman, a militant commander who favoured talks with Islamabad and once contested the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban. Rehman was killed in a drone strike in May.
Militants have in the past carried out retaliatory attacks after the killings of other Taliban commanders.
Mehsud was killed along with four other people – including two of his bodyguards – when four missiles struck their vehicle in the north-western region of North Waziristan, a senior Taliban official told the BBC.
Pakistani media say Mehsud’s funeral has taken place at an unknown location in the tribal area of North Waziristan.
The Taliban’s ruling council met on Saturday to choose a new leader. Unconfirmed reports say regional commander Khan Said Sajna has been elected to the top job.
As well as Mehsud, the previous Pakistan Taliban leader was killed in a drone strike, in 2009.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the US president’s National Security Council, would not comment on any US government involvement or confirm the death but said it would be a serious loss for the group.
The Pakistan government has strongly condemned the drone attack as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Pakistani security services are on high alert following Hakimullah Mehsud’s death in a US drone attack.
Mehsud and other militants were secretly buried early on Saturday, while a Taliban spokesman spoke of exacting a bloody revenge for the killing.
Mehsud, whose predecessor Baitullah Mehsud was killed in 2009, pictured in the same year with Taliban commander Waliur Rehman, who was killed in a drone strike in May
Mehsud’s death is seen as another setback for the militant group after the recent capture of a senior commander by US forces in Afghanistan.
Mehsud, who led the insurgency from North Waziristan, had a $ 5m (£3.1m) FBI bounty on his head and was thought to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.
He came to prominence in 2007 as a commander under the militant group’s founder Baitullah Mehsud, with the capture of 300 Pakistani soldiers adding to his prestige among the militants.
His second-in-command, Waliur Rehman, was killed in a similar drone strike in May.
But BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says that however weakened the Taliban may be by this loss, they will fight on under a new leader.
In a rare interview two weeks ago, Mehsud told the BBC he was open to “serious talks” with the government but said he had not yet been approached.
Mehsud denied carrying out recent deadly attacks in public places, saying his targets were “America and its friends”.
He had loose control over more than 30 militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas.