Admiral Mullen’s allegations about Pakistani support for Islamist insurgents has caused tensions with Islamabad. The Obama administration is now cautiously distancing itself from the criticism made by Mullen.
Pakistani officials were outraged last week when Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that the Pakistani military’s spy agency were backing the Haqqani Network, an Islamist grouping which allegedly masterminded the attack on the US Embassy in Afghanistan in September.
These were the most serious allegations levied at Pakistan since the beginning of the Afghan war. They carried special weight because they came from Mullen, who is considered to be one of the Pakistani military’s closest allies in the US administration.
Bad cop Mullen
Mullen described the Haqqani Network as an arm of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI. He said, that the ISI provided the Haqqani Network with funding, logistical support and a safe haven. Faced with Pakistan’s vehement denials, the White House, Pentagon and State Department carefully refused to endorse Mullen’s comments on Wednesday.
When asked by National Public Radio on Wednesday whether he would change anything he said last week, Mullen replied,”Not a word. I phrased it the way I wanted it to be phrased.”
Good cop Clinton
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Wednesday that,”I have no argument with anyone who says this is a very difficult and complex relationship because it is.” She went on to say that she believes strongly that both the US and Pakistan have to work together despite the difficulties.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani indicated on Thursday that his government was committed to work with the US but he made it clear that no military action against the Haqqani Network was on the cards. Gilani told political and military leaders meeting to formulate a response to Mullen’s allegations that,”Pakistan cannot be pressured to do more.”
As Associated Press reports, Daniel Markey, a Pakistan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said Mullen’s comments seems to reflect internal disagreements over how to deal with Pakistan’s alleged links to the Haqqani Network.
Shuja Nawaz, the director of the South Asia Center at the US based Atlantic Council, said he was worried about who was taking the lead on Pakistan in the Obama administration, given the paucity of experts on the country.
Pakistan has refused to target the Haqqani Network’s sanctuary in North Waziristan, saying its troops are stretched too thin by operations in other parts of the tribal region. Many analysts believe, however, that Islamabad doesn’t want to threaten its historical links with the group because it could be a useful ally in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.
Markey said the Pakistanis are clearly upset by Mullen’s statements,”but they would not do anything constructive about it, so we will end up in a worse relationship with no positive benefits on the counterterrorism or counterinsurgency side.”