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The Pakistani Army slammed the US for "negative propaganda" on Thursday, a response to American accusations that Pakistan's intelligence agency still has ties to a Taliban faction operating in the country. The escalating incriminations coming from both sides indicate the immense pressure facing the US-Pakistan relationship, although both countries vow they are committed to maintaining ties.
That incident prompted last week's announcement that Pakistan expected the US to halt all drone attacks in the country and to cut the number of intelligence agents operating on the ground, including all of those operating without Pakistan's knowledge. The US has given no indication that it plans to acquiesce to Pakistan's demands.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen visited Pakistan this week to try to soothe the tensions between the two countries and meet with Pakistani military officials. Pakistan insists that the key problem is a lack of US trust in Pakistani counterterrorism efforts, as well as US drone attacks, which are highly unpopular among the Pakistani public. The US says that Pakistan is not doing enough to fight terrorism, an accusation Pakistan also disputes.
According to the Associated Press, Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said Thursday that "the Army's multiple offensives against insurgent groups in the northwest are evidence of Pakistan's 'national resolve to defeat terrorism'."
The comments from Admiral Mullen on Wednesday – that Pakistan's intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has ties to the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban faction based in North Waziristan, according to the AP – are likely to only exacerbate the perception among ISI that the US does not trust the agency. The Haqqani network, one of the most deadly obstacles to US and NATO operations in Afghanistan, launches attacks on foreign troops from its Waziristan bases.
Both the US and Pakistan had ties to the Haqqani network during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The US doubts ISI's claims that it severed those ties after 9/11 and suspects that ISI hopes to leverage the Haqqani network for influence in Afghanistan once US and NATO troops leave.
The Pakistani newspaper The Dawn reported that suspected ties to the Haqqani network were at "the core of Pakistan's problematic relations with the US" and noted that Mullen's comments were unprecedentedly strong, but not new.
Though the Haqqani network’s presence in the tribal areas and the army’s reluctance to go after them has been a sore point in Islamabad-Washington relations for some time now, Admiral Mullen’s words indicate a hardening of the American stance.
Rarely in the past have American officials been this open and categorical about links between the ISI and the network.
It is also noteworthy that Michael Mullen did not just press for military action against the militants in North Waziristan, but also said that ISI’s links with the Haqqanis were unacceptable.
It is pertinent to mention here that the Pakistan Army and the ISI have repeatedly denied these allegations and have asked for evidence in support of such charges.
Mullen described the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region as the "epicenter of terrorism in the world" and insinuated that there would be no halt to the drone attacks or a reduction in covert US presence in the country for that reason, according to The Dawn.
General Kayani said the drone strikes "undermine" Pakistan's own efforts to battle militants in the country because they sap public support for the military and ISI's operations, Bloomberg reported. Pakistan has also resisted US requests for assistance battling militants in the northwest.
Despite the disagreements on counterterrorism efforts, the two countries also recognize the necessity of maintaining ties, the Wall Street Journal reports – Pakistan because it needs the billions of dollars of aid it receives from the US, the US because it uses Pakistan as a conduit for moving supplies into Afghanistan and needs Pakistan's assistance fighting militants, especially as it begins to withdraw troops from the region.