WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US officials say there is mounting evidence that Pakistan’s chief intelligence agency has been encouraging a Pakistan-based militant network to attack US targets.
The allegations, if fully confirmed, heighten a painful dilemma for President Barack Obama’s administration. Washington is under growing political pressure to take action against the Haqqani network after a spate of deadly attacks US officials have attributed to it. These include last week’s strike against the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Some US intelligence reporting alleges that Pakis-tan’s Inter Services Intelli-gence directorate (ISI) specifically directed, or urged, the Haqqani network to carry out the Sept. 13 attack on the embassy and a NATO headquarters in Kabul, according two US officials and a source familiar with recent US-Pakistan official contacts. However, officials cautioned that this information is uncorroborated.
Another US official familiar with internal government assessments said that at the very least, the available intelligence strongly suggests the ISI has been egging on elements of the Haqqani network to launch attacks at American targets in the region.
While American officials have aired allegations of ties between the ISI and the Haqqani network in recent days, they have not publicly cited evidence that the Pakistani agency, or elements of it, urged its proxy to attack US targets. While the ISI’s motives in any such attacks are not clear, Pakistan has long wanted to play a major role in Afghanis-tan’s future after the departure of NATO troops, and to counter what it sees as the growing influence there of arch-rival India.
This week, top US officials, including Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, demanded that Pakistan’s leaders take action against the Haqqanis, who are based in that country’s tribal areas and are considered among the most dangerous insurgent groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
Still, despite the threats and an intensified campaign of violence that threatens US efforts to stabilize Afghanis-tan, the Obama administration has few options for increasing pressure on Pakistan and none of them are good.
After years of efforts to cajole, coax and threaten Pakistan into cracking down on a host of militants operating from within its borders failed to bear fruit, U.S. officials are exasperated.
For the United States one alternative — another cross-border raid, like the Navy SEAL mission that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May — may be tempting in some quarters. But the risks are high and the backlash from Pakistan would be fierce, almost certainly harming what counter-terrorism cooperation exists.
“The (US) administration has thrown everything at this — high-level meetings, tons of money, all of these overtures, and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere,” said Caroline Wadhams, a security analyst in Washington.
“This can’t go on forever,” she said, “but the problem is that we have so little leverage.”
“Pakistan values its relationship with the US and is committed to eliminating terrorism in Afghanistan and from our soil,” said A senior Pakistani official. “We will look at all evidence shared by the US side and deal harshly with anyone and everyone responsible for terrorism.”
The long-simmering tension between the sometime allies, sometime adversaries came to a head last week after the brazen attack on the US Embassy in Kabul. It was a major blow as Obama hopes to nudge Afghanistan toward stability and gradually bring home US forces after a decade of war.