Frosty US-Pak relations start to freeze over amid strong allegations

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi / Sarah Berning

Islamabad says there will be no offensive against the Haqqani Network despite US allegations that the Pakistani intellegence service, ISI, has ties with the Islamist insurgents. Tension is growing between the two allies.

Taliban militants attacked the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul on September 13In the latest in a series of rows, Washington has accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of involvement in the September 13 attack on its embassy in Kabul, raising bilateral tensions to a new level.

The White House has recently demanded that Pakistan “break any link they have” with the Haqqanis, based in North Waziristan and which was founded by former CIA asset Jalaluddin Haqqani and is today run by his son Sirajuddin.

According to an AP report, a NATO forces spokesman reiterated on Monday that the Haqqani network is still very much operating out of Pakistan. “We have no credible intelligence indicating that the Haqqani network has eliminated their operating safe havens in Pakistan,” said Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan. “They continue to plan and execute operations from across the border.”

Yet Pakistan denies having ties with Haqqani extremists. In an extraordinary meeting of top Pakistani army generals this past weekend, Islamabad decided it would not launch an offensive against the Haqqani Network.

Taliban takes responsibility

Meanwhile, as reported by AFP, the Taliban in Afghanistan has insisted it alone controls the Haqqani Network and that the operations are not run out of Pakistan.

The new string of allegations has put further strain on the already shaky US-Pakistani relations. Experts say the recent comments made by US Admiral Mike Mullen mark the height of distrust between the two allies.

There has been an increase of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan
There has been an increase of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan

In the past Pakistan’s role in the war on terror has, say US experts, been ambiguous – allegations of the Pakistani intelligence agency having ties to extremist organizations are nothing new. But what is new is that the US has come out and openly accused Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of supporting terrorist activity in Afghanistan.

Icy relations

The Haqqani Network is a terrorist-islamist organisation with close ties to al Qaeda. The US believes the group is based in the western Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan and has blamed it for a number of recent attacks in Afghanistan, the latest being the attack on the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul mid September, 2011.

Admiral Mullen’s comments serve to show how icy the US-Pakistani relationship has become, says Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai. “US officials are now openly saying that Pakistan has supported the Haqqani Network and thus that they help the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan. I believe the allegations will hurt the already strained relationship.”

Pakistan is, however, dependent on the US for aid, Yusufzai points out. The Pakistani military receives billions of US dollars in financial help. But now the demands from the US senate are loud and clear: that Pakistan take action against the Haqqani Network. Pakistani defense expert Tallat Massoud believes the US is just looking for a distraction for the lack of US success in Afghanistan. He believes the USA needs a scapegoat. He believes the attacks in Kabul have been “very embarrassing so they have been trying to pass on responsibility.”

No war on terror without Pakistan

While Pakistan sees itself as a partner in the war against terror, Massoud believes the country’s leaders do not feel they receive enough recognition for their efforts. The Pakistani people are strongly against the drone attacks in the areas bordering Afghanistan. And Islamabad was not keen about the unilateral US military operation that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May. Yusufzai fears serious consequences should the US continue to act on its own in Pakistan. “If the Americans were to conduct a military operation against the Haqqani Network in Pakistani tribal regions, Islamabad would not be able to do any thing about it. But if they start seriously considering occupying North Waziristan, they could end up provoking a war.”

There is a strong anti-American sentiment among part of the Pakistani population, who believe the recent comments from Washington are putting further pressure on Islamabad, as stated by Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in a televised interview. She warns the US that they could lose Pakistan as an ally if allegations continue. She also offers a word of caution: “if the USA wants to continue to fight terror, it must have Pakistan and the Pakistani population on its side.”

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