REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Pakistan is digging in its heels following Washington’s explosive allegations that the South Asia nation's intelligence agency assisted a leading Afghan Taliban group in recent attacks on U.S. targets in Afghanistan, responding with vehement denials and warnings that it could jettison America as an ally if such accusations continued.
The U.S. is hoping that the blunt charge of collusion between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, agency and the Haqqani network made by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, before Congress on Thursday will trigger a shift in Islamabad’s policy toward extremist groups.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mullen called the Haqqani group “a veritable arm of the ISI” and said the agency helped the militants during attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Sept. 13 as well as a truck bomb blast in Wardak province two days earlier that injured 77 American troops.
Reacting to Mullen’s charges, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar cautioned that if the U.S. continued airing such allegations, “you could lose an ally."
“You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan, you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people,” Khar said, speaking to a Pakistani television channel from New York on Thursday. “If you are choosing to do so and if they are choosing to do so, it will be at their [the Americans'] own cost.”
In Karachi, Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani told reporters that the onus was on Washington to pull back and begin mending frayed relations between the two countries.
“They can’t live with us — they can’t live without us,” Gilani said. “So, I would say to them that if they can’t live without us, they should increase contacts with us to remove misunderstandings.”
Khar and Gilani joined a chorus of Pakistani officials who tersely rejected the allegations and challenged the U.S. to supplyevidence of links between the country’s intelligence community and the Haqqani group, regarded by Washington as one of the biggest obstacles to bringing a peaceful end to 10 years of war against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
Estimated to number more than 10,000 fighters, the Haqqani network uses Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region along the Afghan border from which to launch suicide bombings, commando-style assaults and other terror strikes on U.S., NATO and Afghan forces in eastern Afghanistan and in the capital, Kabul. The group does not normally carry out attacks against targets inside Pakistan.
-- Alex Rodriguez
Photo: Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, right, and Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.N., Abdullah Hussain Haroon, at a meeting on the sidelines of the 66th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters Monday. Credit: Seth Wenig / AP Photo