PAKISTAN issued a blunt warning to the US yesterday that it risked breaking the alliance, following accusations by America’s most senior military officer that the ISI spy agency directed recent Haqqani network terror attacks in Afghanistan.
The uneasy relationship is now at breaking point after US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen – previously a vocal defender of Islamabad – told a US Senate hearing the Haqqani network “acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s spy agency.
“With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted a truck bomb (on the anniversary of September 11) as well as the assault on our embassy,” Admiral Mullen said.
“We also have credible evidence they were behind the June 28 attack against the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations.
“Choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the Pakistan government, and especially the Pakistani army and ISI, jeopardise not only the prospect of our strategic partnership but Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected nation with a legitimate regional interest.”
The recent series of high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, including this week’s assassination of peace council chairman Burhanuddin Rabbani, whose funeral was held yesterday, have seriously damaged the efforts of the US-led coalition forces to negotiate a peace settlement and an orderly exit from the country.
As a result, Washington is again pressuring Pakistan to launch a ground operation in North Waziristan to root out the Haqqani network there, and has warned that failure to do so could trigger unilateral US action.
But Pakistan’s recently appointed Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, countered yesterday that the US could not afford to alienate Pakistan’s government or people.
“You will lose an ally,” she said in New York, where she is attending the UN General Assembly. “Anything which is said about an ally, about a partner publicly to recriminate it, to humiliate it, is not acceptable.”
Interior Minister Rehman Malik warned against a unilateral US ground attack on the Haqqani forces, and said the US Senate’s decision to make $US1 billion ($1.01bn) in aid conditional on Islamabad taking action against Haqqani “will not make Pakistanis happy”.
Islamabad has indicated that any unilateral US action on its territory – following the May raid on the Osama bin Laden compound – would be seen as a hostile act that would result in blocking the NATO and US military supply route into Afghanistan.
Pakistan has long denied it provides support to the Haqqani network, although the group’s main madrassas in North Waziristan’s capital, Miram Shah, are said to be within a few kilometres of major military bases.
One US military official told The Wall Street Journal yesterday “they’re so close they can shout to each other”.
With the US and the Afghan Taliban leaders moving towards talks, analysts believe Pakistan is looking to the Haqqanis to secure its interests and guard against being squeezed out of Kabul’s power equation by India.
As Pakistani columnist Khalid Haziz wrote in the Dawn newspaper yesterday: “The Haqqani group has always indicated their fight is against the foreign occupation of Afghanistan and not against Pakistan or its army.
“On some occasions the group has even provided support to the army . . . The Haqqani group is thus an asset, helping Pakistan.”