The United States on Tuesday demanded that Pakistan dismantle a terrorist network blamed for attacking a U.S. embassy as Pakistanis defended efforts to fight militants and demonstrated against the increasing U.S. pressure.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Pakistan “needs to take action to deal with the links” that U.S. officials say exist between the Pakistani intelligence agency and the Haqqani Network, based along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
He repeated claims by other U.S. officials that the Haqqani terrorists are “responsible for attacks on the U.S. Embassy” in Afghanistan and on other Western targets.
The United States has been publicly increasing pressure on Pakistan since Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency helped plan the attacks on the embassy and NATO headquarters in the Afghan capital, Kabul, two weeks ago.
Pakistan defended its efforts to fight terrorism Tuesday, when Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told the U.N. General Assembly that her country has lost more than 30,000 people to terrorist attacks over the past decade.
She also appealed for “greater trust” in Pakistan’s war against terrorism.
“We must demonstrate complete unity in ranks, avoid recrimination, build greater trust and more importantly bring about the requisite operational coordination in combating this menace,” she said.
The foreign minister highlighted the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister who was killed in 2007.
“Numerous politicians have lost sons and brothers and fathers at the hand of terrorists,” she said.
In Pakistan, thousands of protesters denounced the United States in marches throughout the South Asian nation. Hundreds of demonstrators shouted, “Death to America,” in a protest outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rehman Malik met with a visiting Chinese official in what some analysts interpreted as an attempt to bolster relations with China. He promised to attack Chinese militants hiding along Pakistan’s border with China.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani praised Pakistani-Chinese relations, calling them “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey,” the Associated Press reported.
U.S. concerns about the relationship between the ISI and the Haqqani Network have dominated recent diplomatic meetings, including a 3½-hour session between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Pakistan’s foreign minister in New York last week.
Pakistan’s relationship with the Haqqani Network is “complicated,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss intelligence matters.
“Pakistan’s national security apparatus has supported the Haqqani fighters for decades. But we’ve seen in the past what happens when terrorists are given a de facto safe haven, as the Haqqanis have in parts of Pakistan. It doesn’t turn out well for either Pakistan or the United States,” the official said.
“The open question is whether Pakistan has the will or the ability to crack down on the Haqqani Network. The U.S. has done its part to degrade the group’s capabilities but can’t do it entirely on its own.”
The Haqqani Network is led by the father-son duo Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani. The Haqqanis allow al Qaeda and the Taliban to share its safe havens.
Adm. Mullen’s testimony last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee marked the first time that a senior U.S. official had publicly linked the Pakistani spy service to attacks on U.S. interests.
He said the U.S. also has “credible intelligence” that the ISI was behind a June 28 attack on the InterContinental Hotel in Kabul and other smaller attacks. The attacks killed more than a dozen people and wounded 77 U.S. troops.
Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, has introduced a bill to freeze U.S. aid to Pakistan because of its support for terrorism.
“In my opinion, Pakistan’s refusal to go after the Haqqani Network, a known dangerous terrorist organization that has carried out several attacks in the past month alone, is just further proof that they are complicit in aiding violent extremists,” he told The Washington Times.
He said the State Department must designate the Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist group, which would freeze the group’s U.S. assets and outlaw support from U.S. citizens.
“Since the discovery of Osama bin Laden in [Pakistan], they have proven to be disloyal, deceptive and a danger to the United States. This so-called ally continues to play both sides, taking billions in U.S. aid, while at the same time supporting the militants who attack us,” he said of Pakistan.
Bin Laden, founder of the al Qaeda terrorist group, was killed in a U.S. commando raid in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in May.
Behind the scenes, U.S. and Pakistani officials are engaged in an attempt to salvage the relationship.
“Diplomatic channels between the two countries are trying to de-escalate the situation and hopefully we will once again converge on our common objective of defeating terrorism,” said Imran Gardezi, a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.
Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani has held several high-level meetings, including with Marc Grossman, the U.S. special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Obama administration has not provided any “solid evidence” to back up the accusation made by Adm. Mullen, said a Pakistani official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing the sensitive nature of the discussions.
He said Mrs. Clinton also failed to provide proof of the ISI’s role in the attacks in her meeting with Ms. Khar.
However, an Afghan and a Western official, who both spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there is enough evidence of the ISI’s fingerprints in these attacks.
The cellphone of one of the terrorists involved in the firefight at the U.S. Embassy and NATO’s headquarters in Kabul on Sept. 13 revealed that the attackers had been in constant touch with their handlers in Pakistan during the course of the 20-hour operation, the officials said.
“We can confirm that such spectacular attacks can only be launched with the help of ISI,” the Afghan official said in an interview from Kabul.
Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies view the Haqqani Network as a proxy that safeguards Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and limits India’s influence. Pakistan and India, nuclear-armed South Asian rivals, have fought three wars since independence in 1947.