Pakistan’s foreign minister blasted comments made by the top U.S. military commander, who said that the militant Haqqani network is essentially a “strategic arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and warned that Washington risks losing a key ally if the accusations continue.
During testimony on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen said Pakistani officials must stop their support for and protection of the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which the U.S. blames for last week's 20-hour assault on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. Mullen went so far to say the country was “exporting terrorism.”
In response, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, stressed that the U.S. has never provided any evidence that Pakistan's military spy agency has been aiding the Haqqani network. “You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan; you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people," Khar said. "If you are choosing to do so, and if they are choosing to do so, it will be at [the United States'] own cost.”
"Pointing fingers at each other will not help," she told an Indian news channel while in New York for the United Nations meetings this week. "We've never ventured into the blame game because we want to be a mature, responsible country." Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency has long claimed to have cut off its ties with the Haqqanis, a group it supported during the 1980s war in Afghanistan, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Echoing Khar's comments, which were broadcast on Friday in Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani described the difficult relationship with the U.S.: "They can't live with us. They can't live without us."
Washington has been pressuring Islamabad to step up its attacks on the Haqqani network, which has been carrying out brazen and increasingly complex attacks across the border in Afghanistan. Islamabad has been reluctant to attack the Pakistan-based network.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged her Pakistani counterpart during more than three hours of talks to go after the Haqqani network. Officials said that the recent attacks on the embassy and other Western targets that killed 16 Afghans "changed the nature" of the planned meeting on Sunday. "What we said was that this is a huge problem and that Pakistan's got to deal with it," a senior State Department official said.
Tensions between Washington and Islamabad have been inflamed since the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden within his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, not far from the capital. Lawmakers have raised questions about how bin Laden, hiding in a town with a large military presence, could have gone unnoticed by the Pakistani intelligence. In a scathing statement a few days after the raid, Pakistan's military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, demanded that Washington withdraw many of the U.S. military personnel stationed in Pakistan and warned that any new raids into the country would prompt a far-reaching reevaluation of Islamabad’s ties with Washington.