- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pakistan’s intelligence agency helped terrorists plan and conduct an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, last week, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday.

The comments marked the first time a senior U.S. official has publicly linked Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to an attack on U.S. interests in Afghanistan.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Mullen said the ISI also helped the Haqqani Network, a Pakistan-based terrorist group, plan a truck-bomb attack near a NATO military base on Sept. 10. Four Afghans were killed and 77 U.S. troops injured in the attack in Wardak province, 30 miles south of Kabul.

“With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck-bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” Adm. Mullen said.

He added that the United States also has “credible intelligence” that the ISI also was behind a June 28 attack on the InterContinental Hotel in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as well as smaller attacks.

The Haqqani Network, led by the father-son duo Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani, operates from safe havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, which abuts Afghanistan.The Haqqanis allow al Qaeda and the Taliban to use its safe havens in Pakistan.

“The Haqqani Network … acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI, Adm. Mullen said.

Other U.S. and Western officials frequently cite close ties between the ISI and the Haqqani Network.

“The fact remains that the Quetta Shura [the Pakistani Taliban] and the Haqqani Network operate from Pakistan with impunity. Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as U.S. soldiers,” Adm. Mullen said in written testimony to the committee.

A Pakistani Embassy spokesman on Thursday did not return calls from The Washington Times, but Pakistani officials deny that such linkages exist.

In Islamabad on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Tahmina Junjua denied the charges to reporters, calling the U.S. officials’ claims “perceptions.” Asked whether Pakistan is engaging in a proxy war in Afghanistan, Ms. Junjua said, “I would say a categoric ‘no.’ “

Adm. Mullen’s remarks underscore Washington’s growing frustration with Islamabad’s selective cooperation in the fight against terrorist groups.

The U.S.-Pakistani relationship sank to its lowest point after a May 1 raid by U.S. commandos that resulted in the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, about 35 miles north of Islamabad.

Pakistani officials were not informed of the raid in advance, and the discovery of bin Laden living comfortably in a mansion near the Pakistani capital raised questions of Pakistani complicity in sheltering the terrorist.

President Obama’s decision to escalate a covert CIA program that involves firing missiles from unmanned Predator drones at terrorists inside Pakistan further strained the relationship.

A majority of Pakistanis oppose the drone strikes, which they see as a violation of their sovereign territory. Elements in Pakistan’s security services in the past have warned the Haqqanis of impending Predator strikes.

A Western official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Pakistan has been reluctant to pursue groups such as the Haqqani Network, which it views as its proxies in neighboring Afghanistan.

On Sept. 13, male militants dressed like women in head-to-toe burqas infiltrated Kabul’s so-called “ring of steel” security perimeter and attacked the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters, using weapons smuggled in truckloads of construction material.

U.S. and Afghan officials have blamed the Haqqani Network for the 20-hour assault that left 11 civilians, four Afghan police officers and 10 insurgents dead.

“In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan - and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI - jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership, but Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence,” Adm. Mullen said.

“They may believe that by using these proxies, they are hedging their bets or redressing what they feel is an imbalance in regional power. But in reality, they have already lost that bet,” he said.

“By exporting violence, they’ve eroded their internal security and their position in the region. They have undermined their international credibility and threatened their economic well-being,” he added.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has written repeatedly to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urging her to designate the Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization.

Such a designation would freeze the group’s U.S. assets and outlaw cooperation between U.S. citizens and the terrorists.

“This step is long overdue,” Mr. Levin said.

In a statement Thursday addressing Mrs. Clinton, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and Select Committee on Intelligence chairwoman, joined the chorus, saying, “There is no question that the Haqqani Network meets the standards” for the list.

“I request that the State Department take the additional step of listing the network as a foreign terrorism organization and look forward to receiving your response,” Mrs. Feinstein said, noting that the network “conducts attacks against U.S. targets and personnel in Afghanistan, and poses a continuing threat to American, Afghan and allied personnel and interests.”

In recent meetings with Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Adm. Mullen has urged Pakistan to stop providing safe havens to the Haqqani Network. CIA Director David H. Petraeus conveyed a similar message to the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, in a meeting in Washington this week.

“There’s been a very clear message to them and to others that they must take steps to prevent the safe haven that the Haqqanis are using,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said at the Senate committee hearing.

In a meeting that lasted more than three hours in New York over the weekend, Mrs. Clinton pressed Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on acting against the Haqqani Network.

“We were specific about the need for Pakistan to take action on the Haqqani Network,” a senior State Department official, who briefed reporters on the meeting, said on the condition of anonymity.