LAHORE, Pakistan – The American military’s top officer used an interview on Pakistani television Wednesday night to accuse the country’s spy agency of supporting an Afghan insurgent group that’s blamed for killing U.S. and Afghan forces, as well as civilians, in some of the bloodiest attacks in Afghanistan.
The remarks by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were the first time a senior U.S. official has issued in such blunt terms in public what U.S. officials privately have long charged is Pakistani double-dealing in the war against Islamic militants in Afghanistan.
Coming from Mullen, who’s known as the “good cop” on the U.S. side of the rocky relationship, the comments also seemed to acknowledge the failure of an Obama administration policy to persuade Pakistan’s military to cut ties with Afghan insurgents and close their bases on its side of the border in return for billions of dollars in U.S. aid, training and weaponry.
The development potentially holds serious implications for the U.S.-led military campaign to crush the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan. The administration’s strategy there has in part counted on improved cooperation from the Pakistani military in routing militants from its tribal region.
Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, has a “relationship” with the Haqqani network, a group close to the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, that ends up costing the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan, Mullen said.
“The ISI has a long-standing relationship with the Haqqani network. That doesn’t mean everybody in the ISI. But it’s there,” Mullen said in an interview broadcast Wednesday on Geo News, Pakistan’s leading news channel. “I believe over time that’s got to change.”
He made similar remarks in separate interviews with two Pakistani newspapers.
Mullen’s comments come amid the iciest ties between Islamabad and Washington since 2001, when the Pakistani military ended its patronage of the Afghan Taliban, backed the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and joined the U.S.-led drive to crush al-Qaida, whose leaders fled into Pakistan’s tribal area.
Moeen Yusuf, an expert with the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, said the two sides were about as close to a “rupture” in relations as they’ve ever been. A rupture would be costly for both sides: the U.S. relies on the ISI for intelligence on al-Qaida, and Islamabad depends on the U.S. for crucial economic and military assistance.
Mullen’s remarks, he said, show “just how bad the relationship is all around,” Yusuf said.
An administration official in Washington said both sides are trying to find a way to reach common ground.
“What is important in this case is that both sides remember that we face a common threat from extremists,” said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It is in both our best interests to keep the channels of communication open and to continue to work together to deal with that threat.”
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