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Pakistan's top military commanders announced Sunday that they will not take action against the Haqqani network, the Pakistan-based militant group that the US suspects in two brazen attacks on Western targets in Afghanistan's capital this month.
The announcement signals a certain measure of defiance from Pakistan, which the US has accused of aiding and abetting the Haqqani network. Washington has repeatedly asked the Pakistani government to do more to undermine the group's operations.
Pakistan news outlet The Express Tribune reports that the commanders agreed to resist US demands for an offensive in North Waziristan, where the Haqqani network is believed to be operating. “We have already conveyed to the US that Pakistan cannot go beyond what it has already done,” an unnamed official said.
In an unusually frank assessment a top US military official last week accused Pakistan of backing the Haqqani network and aiding its recent attack on the US Embassy and a NATO compound in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this month, Reuters reports.
In the most blunt remarks by a US official since Pakistan joined the US-led war on militancy in 2001, the outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on Thursday testified before the US Senate that the Haqqani militant network is a "veritable arm" of the [Pakistani intelligence agency] ISI. He also for the first time held Islamabad responsible for the Kabul attack, saying Pakistan provided support for that assault.
Pakistan has denied that it supports the Haqqanis, and say it can't take further action against the network because it is focused on battling its own domestic Taliban insurgency. A crackdown on the group, which has extensive alliances in the border region and has "mastered the rugged mountain terrain," would result in heavy casualties, according to Reuters.
The official Pakistani response to Washington's accusations has been sharp and included threats of ending counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries.
But public statements by Pakistani officials indicate that even if there isn't explicit support for the Haqqanis, the government has ties with the group. In an interview with CNN quoted by The Express Tribune, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said, “Any intelligence agency would like to maintain contact with whatever opposition group, whatever terrorist organisation … for some positive outcome."
However, those contacts do not mean that the ISI supports or endorses the organisation, he added. “If someone is blaming us [as] the only country maintaining contacts with the Haqqanis, there are others, too,” Abbas said. There is a huge difference between maintaining contacts with such a group to facilitate peace and supporting it against an ally, he said.
In an interview with the satellite TV network Al Jazeera today, quoted by the Associated Press of Pakistan, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar also acknowledged contact – and accused the US of the same. “If we talk about links, I am sure the CIA also has links with many terrorist organisations around the world, by which we mean intelligence links,” she said. “And this particular network, which [the United States] continues to talk about, is a network which was the blue-eyed boy of the CIA itself for many years.”
The US accusations of collusion are "very, very unappreciated on our side. This is unsubstantiated. No evidence has been shared with us," Ms. Khar also said.
Partners and allies, she said, do not talk to each other through public statements.
Pakistan had taken up the matter with the United States, but the spate of hostile statements coming from senior US officials meant that Washington had taken policy decision. If that was the case then “We have the right to make our own decision.”
Khar went to say that scapegoating and blame games would not help and that Pakistan wanted to be a partner of the US.
“I just hope that we’ll be given a chance to co-operate with each other and the doors will remain open – because statements like this are pretty much close to shutting those doors,” she added.
The Haqqani network has emerged as one of the biggest threats to US troops in Afghanistan and US efforts to stabilize the country. From their stronghold in the lawless Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, they regularly carry out attacks on US troops.
According to The New York Times, American officials see the Haqqanis as "guns for hire: a proxy force used by the Pakistani intelligence service to carry out grisly, high-profile attacks in Kabul and throughout the country."