REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Sunday strongly rejected claims from Kabul that Pakistan’s premier spy agency was involved in the assassination of Afghanistan’s chief negotiator with the Taliban.
Afghan and U.S. officials have been ramping up pressure on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to sever its ties with the Haqqani network, a wing of the Afghan Taliban regarded by Washington as the most dangerous security threat to U.S., NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
Last month, Adm. Mike Mullen, who has just retired as the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the ISI helped Haqqani militants carry out a 20-hour siege on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Sept. 13, as well as a truck bombing in Wardak province that injured more than 70 U.S. soldiers. Mullen called the Haqqani network “a veritable arm of the ISI.”
Afghan officials, meanwhile, have claimed that the ISI played a role in the Sept. 20 assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was tabbed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to lead negotiation efforts with the Afghan Taliban to end the country’s 10-year conflict. Rabbani was killed at his home when a man who said he was a Taliban emissary detonated a bomb hidden in his turban as the two men met.
Rabbani’s murder dealt a severe blow to efforts by the U.S. and Afghanistan to nurture a political solution to the insurgency through reconciliation. This weekend, Afghan Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi told the Afghan parliament that the ISI was involved in Rabbani’s assassination.
On Sunday, Pakistani officials dismissed Mohammadi’s allegations as “baseless.”
“The Afghan interior minister’s statement is all the more regrettable, as [Pakistani] Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani had himself offered cooperation in the investigation,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry stated in a statement. “There is a need to take stock of the direction taken by Afghan intelligence and security agencies.”
Afghan officials said they have given officials in Islamabad evidence that Rabbani’s assassination had been planned in the southern city of Quetta, which Afghan and U.S. officials have long claimed is home to the Afghan Taliban leadership group known as the Quetta Shura. On Sunday, an Afghan commission investigating Rabbani’s murder said the assassin was a Pakistani man from Chaman, a small Pakistani city on the Afghan border.
Because of its links with the Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban leaders, Pakistan is regarded as a crucial player in any resolution to the war in Afghanistan. However, many analysts believe Pakistan has balked at cooperating, particularly when it comes to U.S. calls for its military to go after Haqqani militants based in the country’s tribal areas, because it sees Haqqani and Afghan Taliban leaders as a valuable hedge against any future Indian influence in Kabul once the U.S. withdraws its forces in 2014. Pakistan has always regarded nuclear archrival India as its paramount threat.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a roadside bomb killed nine Afghan army soldiers late Saturday in a patrol convoy in Gardez, capital of the eastern province of Paktia, said Rohullah Samoon, spokesman for the Paktia governor. Four other soldiers were injured in the blast.
-- Alex Rodriguez and Aimal Yaqubi
Rodriguez reported from Islamabad and special correspondent Yaqubi reported from Kabul.
Photo: Funeral of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabban, who had been tabbed to lead the country's peace negotiations with the Taliban. Credit: Ahmad Masood / Reuters