By Ayaz Gul
Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani chaired a special meeting of his top commanders on Sunday amid an escalating war of words with the United States. Ties between the two allies have plunged to a new low following U.S. allegations the Pakistani spy agency is encouraging and aiding deadly militant attacks on U.S.- led international forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials say the emergency meeting of top army commanders was called to review the “prevailing security situation” in the country.
The corps commanders gathered in the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi against the backdrop of growing American allegations that the Pakistan army’s spy agency, the ISI, is assisting the militant Haqqani network to launch attacks on U.S. targets in neighboring Afghanistan.
The outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told a Senate hearing last week that the Haqqani network acts as a “veritable arm” of the Pakistani spy agency, and its fighters planned and conducted this month’s assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul as well as NATO bases in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders have rejected the accusations as baseless and said they are detrimental for regional peace efforts.
Speaking to reporters in Islamabad Sunday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik insisted that the Haqqani network is not operating from Pakistan. He alleged the network was produced and trained by the American CIA with support from Pakistan to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“They are operating in Afghanistan. If anybody has got any evidence to this effect (that they are in Pakistan) please bring it to us,” said Malik. “We are cooperating with U.S. We will cooperate with every country of the world who is fighting against terrorism.“
The minister said he has ordered tighter border controls for checking up to 50,000 people moving between Pakistan and Afghanistan every day.
He criticized the Afghan government for turning down Pakistan’s requests to revive a so-called biometric mechanism to effectively identify people moving through the regular border crossings.
Speaking late Saturday in Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the latest U.S. allegations against Pakistan as a “propaganda blitz.”
“The allegations betray confusion and policy disarray within the U.S. establishment on the way forward in Afghanistan,” he said. “We strongly reject assertions of complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war [in Afghanistan]. Only terrorists and militants will gain from any fissures and divisions.”
Gilani defended his country’s role in the war against terrorism, saying sacrifices of thousands of Pakistanis in this campaign are “impeccable and unquestionable.”
He also reiterated his military’s stance that having contacts with militant groups like the Haqqani network to promote peace does not mean Pakistan supports terrorism.
“Several countries have maintained direct contacts with the Haqqanis,” he said. “Singling out Pakistan is not fair.”
Pakistani officials in turn are accusing the United States of trying to make Pakistan a scapegoat for its troubled war in Afghanistan.
Critics like former Pakistani army general Talat Masood say both sides need to de-escalate rhetoric and work toward overcoming their inefficiencies while dealing with terrorism.
“Both the countries need to step back,” said Masood. “The situation is extremely complex and it requires complex solutions, not simple black and white answers. And no amount of scapegoating by either party will help in resolving the real issues which are facing this region.”
The United States has long maintained that the Haqqani network is using its bases in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region to launch cross-border guerrilla raids in Afghanistan. But despite escalating U.S. pressure, Pakistani leaders have shown no signs they plan to mobilize troops to attack the Haqqani network in the Waziristan region.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta earlier this month seemed to suggest that U.S. forces could carry out unilateral raids on Pakistani soil against the Haqqani network. Pakistan has warned that such an action could lead to “serious consequences,” but did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, the head of U.S. Central Command, General James Mattis, concluded his meetings with Pakistani military leaders on Sunday.
A U.S. embassy statement says the CENTCOM chief emphasized the need for persistent engagements among militaries of the U.S. Pakistan and other countries in the region.
A Pakistan army statement says a Pakistani representative in the talks, Khalid Shameem Wyne expressed concern about the “negative statements emanating” from Washington and stressed the need to address the irritants in the relationship which are “the result of an extremely complex situation.”
A major portion of “non-lethal” war supplies to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is trucked over Pakistani soil. U.S. officials also have acknowledged they need Pakistan’s support for the peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. In turn, Washington is giving Islamabad billions of dollars in military and civilian aid to help the country overcome its economic challenges.