Pakistan denies US claim its spy agency helps insurgents
Army leader says charges are 'not based on facts’
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s army chief dismissed US allegations that his spy agency had helped Afghan militants attack the US Embassy in Kabul, saying yesterday that the charges were baseless and part of a public “blame game’’ detrimental to peace in Afghanistan.
Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s terse statement suggested Islamabad had no immediate intention of acting on renewed American demands that it attack the Haqqani network in its base in northwest Pakistan. It also ramped up a dispute between the two nations that has exposed their increasingly deteriorating relationship.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency on Thursday of supporting Haqqani insurgents with planning and executing a 22-hour assault on the US Embassy in Afghanistan last week and with a truck bomb that wounded 77 American soldiers days earlier.
Kayani said in a statement that the allegations were “very unfortunate and not based on facts.’’
The claims were the most serious yet by an American official against nuclear-armed Pakistan, which Washington has given billions in civilian and military aid during the last 10 years in an effort to secure its cooperation inside Afghanistan and against Al Qaeda.
Kayani’s statement appeared to imply that Pakistan’s contacts with the Haqqani network were part of efforts to bring it to the negotiating table. The United States, Kabul, and European countries all agree that a peace deal will be needed to end the war, though not all agree on whether the Haqqanis, with links to Al Qaeda, should be included.
The statement said that “on the specific question of contacts with Haqqanis . . . Admiral Mullen knows fully well which . . . countries are in contact with the Haqqanis. Singling out Pakistan is neither fair nor productive.’’
Kayani, regarded as the most powerful man in Pakistan, said the “blame game’’ between it and the United States should give way to constructive dialogue about the future of a peaceful Afghanistan.
The Haqqani network is believed to be based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan border. The group has historical ties to Pakistani intelligence, dating to the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Mullen’s words marked the first time an American official had tied Pakistan’s intelligence agency directly to the attacks and signaled a significant shift in the US approach to Islamabad. In the past, US criticism of Pakistan largely had been relayed in private conversations with the countries’ leaders while American officials publicly offered encouraging words for Islamabad’s participation in the terror fight.
Kayani said Mullen’s allegations were “especially disturbing in view of a rather constructive meeting’’ he had with Mullen in Spain last week.
Mullen did not provide specific evidence backing up his accusations or indicate what the US would do if Pakistan refuses to cut ties to the Haqqanis. The United States has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan attack the insurgents and prevent them from using the country’s territory.
Given Pakistan’s reluctance, the United States has increasingly relied on unmanned drones to attack Haqqani fighters and other militants in North Waziristan.
The latest attack occurred yesterday. Two missiles hit a house in the Khalsoor area of Mir Ali, one of the main towns in North Waziristan, said Pakistani intelligence officials. The identities of the people killed in the strike were not known.
Responding to Mullen’s comments earlier, Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, alluded to both countries’ mutual need for each other - Pakistan’s for US financial assistance and international support, and Washington’s need for Islamabad’s cooperation in the antiterrorism fight and in helping negotiate a peace deal in Afghanistan.
“They can’t live with us. They can’t live without us,’’ Gilani told reporters. “So, I would say to them that if they can’t live without us, they should increase contacts with us to remove misunderstandings.’’
Pakistani officials yesterday reiterated claims that the United States was seeking to make Pakistan a scapegoat for its failings in Afghanistan. They have also complained recently that militants chased out of Pakistan by the army are now using Afghan soil to attack targets inside the country.
The relationship between the two countries has never been smooth, but it took one of its hardest hits when US commandos sneaked into Pakistan on May 2 and killed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a garrison town not far from Islamabad.
The covert raid outraged the Pakistani government because it was not told about it beforehand, while bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad raised further suspicions among US officials about the country’s duplicity in the antiterrorism fight.