(Global security) : In an unprecedented public condemnation of Pakistan, the U.S. military's outgoing chief Admiral Mike Mullen has accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of actively supporting Haqqani network extremists who he said target U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee, on September 22 that "in choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan -- and most especially the Pakistani Army and ISI [intelligence service] -- jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership, but also Pakistan's opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence."
The statement came a day after a key U.S. Senate committee voted to make economic and security aid to Pakistan conditional on its cooperation in fighting militant groups, including the Haqqani network. U.S. officials blame the group for this month's rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
A press statement by the Senate Appropriations Committee said on September 21 that the bill "includes strengthened restrictions on assistance for Pakistan by conditioning all funds to the Government of Pakistan on cooperation against the Haqqani Network, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations."
Mullen's comments and the Senate committee's decision follow calls from senior administration officials -- including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta -- for Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, to cut all ties to the Haqqani network and to stop supporting extremist proxies as part of its strategy.
On September 22, Mullen also told U.S Senators that by exporting violence, Pakistan has eroded its internal security and its position in the region.
"They have undermined their international credibility and threatened their economic well-being," Mullen said.
'Strategy Has To Shift'
Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment think tank in Washington on September 20, Mullen said that he recently held detailed discussions with Pakistan's military chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani urging him to disengage from the Haqqani network.
"The need for the Haqqani network to disengage, specifically the need for the ISI to disconnect from Haqqani and from this proxy war that they're fighting -- and without that we can't succeed in the overall effort as well," Mullen said. "What I believe is the relationship with Pakistan is critical. We walked away from them in the past and in walking away from Pakistan, walking away from Afghanistan, it's where -- look where we are today."
Mullen said that the ISI has been supporting proxies for an extended period of time. "It is a strategy in the country and I think that strategic approach has to shift in the future."
Pointing The Finger
Mullen said he had no doubt that the Haqqani network was behind the September 11 attack on a U.S. military base in the central Wardak Province, which injured 77 soldiers. He said it was also responsible for the daring attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on September 13. "I think the U.S. is prepared to take appropriate action to protect our men and women, first of all, in the fight and certainly to protect the Afghan citizens who have been devastated by this network as well." he said.
Meanwhile, in Kabul, senior Afghan officials are pointing the finger at the ISI for helping the Taliban to plan the September 20 assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Rabbani was the key figure responsible for negotiating with the Taliban. The insurgent movement said it is not commenting on Rabbani's murder.
But in Islamabad, Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, denied the presence of the Haqqani network inside Pakistani territory.
Talking to reporters after a meeting with U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller on September 21 in Islamabad, Malik said Pakistan was battling terrorism "as a frontline fighter" and the Pakistani government would not allow its soil to be used for terrorism anywhere in the world.
"As far as Haqqanis are concerned, we have discussed a number of issues. Yes, this is an irritant and we are resolving it together. And you know, Haqqanis are the production of the Soviet Union and Afghan war when we were partners and they are sons of the soil," Malik said. "But I assured him [Mueller] they are not on the Pakistani side. But if there is any intelligence which is provided by U.S., we will definitely take action."
Malik, however, changed his views a day later. In an interview with Reuters on September 22, Malik conceded that elements of the Haqqani network are based in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region on its western border with Afghanistan.
Observers say that the group can draw on a pool of roughly 10,000 to 15,000 fighters. Despite years of American pressure Islamabad has resisted a large scale offensive against militants in North Waziristan – something it has done in the rest of the tribal areas.
"Our capacity to trace them in that area is limited. Give us the information and we will operate," Malik said. "Let's have information, let's have a proper investigation and if there is a requirement, let's have an operation."
Malik said that Washington and Islamabad were fighting a common enemy without a joint strategy. "Instead of a blame game we have to sit together. We are not part of the terrorism, we are part of the solution," he said.
Washington needs Pakistan's land routes for supplying its troops based in Afghanistan, while Islamabad needs Washington's economic assistance.
Pakistan is seeking a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan when its current program ends later on this month. The South Asian nation of 180 million has been struggling since 2008 to keep its economy afloat with an $11 billion IMF
"The Washington Post" reported on September 21 that Islamabad is on a Washington ultimatum to cut ties with the Haqqani network. The U.S. wants Islamabad to help eliminate its leaders or else "the United States will act unilaterally."