Pakistan’s prime minister has turned on the US over its allegations of links to the Haqqani terror network, saying the “blame game is self-defeating” and US policy in Afghanistan is in “disarray”.
The two countries are key allies in the war against Islamist militants in Afghanistan, but their relationship is often troubled and plumbed new depths after the killing of Osama bin Laden in a covert US raid in Pakistan in May.
The latest row, with Washington accusing elements of the Pakistani state of supporting the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network it blames for an attack on the US embassy in Kabul, has raised the tensions to an unprecedented level.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Saturday the US allegations would only benefit the militants, and that they “betray a confusion and policy disarray within the US establishment on the way forward in Afghanistan”.
“We strongly reject assertions of complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war,” he said in a policy statement issued by his office amid a growing rift with the United States.
“Blame game is self-defeating… It will only benefit the enemies of peace. Only terrorists and militants will gain from any fissures and divisions.”
The White House demanded Friday that Pakistan “break any link they have” with the Haqqanis, a Taliban faction founded by a CIA asset turned Al-Qaeda ally.
A day earlier, top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen directly accused Pakistan’s intelligence service of supporting the network’s attack on the embassy and a truck bombing on a NATO outpost.
The Haqqani network, which has a fighting force of at least 2,000 men, operates independently of the Taliban leadership but remains politically subservient and would fall behind any peace deal it negotiated.
It was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a disciplined Afghan guerrilla leader bankrolled by the United States to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s and now based with his family in Pakistan.
Haqqani allied himself to the Taliban after they took power in Kabul in 1996 and when American troops invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks he took refuge in the Pakistani tribal district of North Waziristan.
With training bases in eastern Afghanistan, the network is close to Al-Qaeda, loyal to Mullah Omar, and targets US troops across the Afghan east, the southeast and within the capital Kabul.
Gilani’s comments came after Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said Washington’s humiliating public attack was “not acceptable” and warned the US stood to lose a vital ally.
The Pakistani premier said his country was not responsible for the security of foreign troops inside Afghanistan and it was itself a victim of terrorist attacks launched from Afghan soil.
“While there have been terrorist attacks in Kabul and Wardak, there have also been numerous attacks on Pakistan launched from sanctuaries and safe havens in Nooristan and Kunar in Afghanistan,” he said
“It is as much the responsibility of the Afghan National Army, NATO and ISAF not to allow such cross-border militancy.”
He said there was concern over the deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan and called the recent attacks in Kabul “disquieting”.
“We condemn these attacks,” he said.
Insurgents besieged the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul with rocket and gunfire for 19 hours earlier this month, leaving 15 people dead and turning the most secure district of the Afghan capital into a battle zone.
Gilani said given the sacrifices made by Pakistani security forces and citizens the “propaganda blitz against Pakistan is indeed most unfortunate”.
“It vitiates the atmosphere and is counter productive. It tends to ignore the sacrifices by the people of Pakistan and negates all that we have endeavoured to achieve over the last so many years,” he said.
More then 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed in the fight against terrorism and many more injured, Gilani said, adding that the US was well aware of the arrests and killings of a large number of Al-Qaeda operatives by Pakistan.
Meanwhile, US Centcom chief General James Mattis Saturday held security talks with Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Kayani, officials said.
“Matters related to security were discussed,” a senior military official told AFP on condition of anonymity. No other details were available, but Pakistani officials said the meeting would help defuse the mounting tensions.