ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Pakistan warned the United States it risked losing an ally if it kept accusing Islamabad of playing a double game in the war against militancy, escalating the crisis in relations between the two countries.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was responding to comments by Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, who said Pakistan’s top spy agency supported attacks on the US Embassy and other targets by the Haqqani network, the most violent and effective faction among Islamist Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
It is the most serious allegation levelled by the United States against nuclear-armed, Muslim-majority Pakistan since they began an alliance in the “war on terrorism” a decade ago.
“You will lose an ally,” Khar told Geo TV in New York in remarks broadcast yesterday. “You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan; you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people.”
The White House yesterday reiterated its call for Pakistan to cut its ties to the Haqqani network and shut down safe havens on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
“It is critical that the government of Pakistan break any links they have, and take strong and immediate action against this network so that they are no longer a threat to the United States or to the people of Pakistan, because this network is a threat to both,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.Mullen, speaking in the Senate on Thursday, alleged Haqqani operatives launched the bold attack last week on the Kabul embassy with the support of Pakistan’s military intelligence.
The charges came amid mounting exasperation in Washington as the Obama administration struggles to curb militancy in Pakistan and end the long war in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, rejected Mullen’s comments as “very unfortunate and not based on facts.”
“Singling out Pakistan is neither fair nor productive,” he said, according to a military statement released yesterday.
The tensions could have repercussions across Asia, from India, Pakistan’s economically booming archrival, to China, which has edged closer to Pakistan in recent years.
A complete break between the United States and Pakistan — sometimes friends, often adversaries — seems unlikely, if only because Washington depends on Pakistan for supply routes to US troops fighting militants in Afghanistan, and as a base for unmanned US drones.
Pakistan relies on Washington for military and economic aid and for acting as a backer on the world stage.
“The message for America is: ‘They can’t live with us, they can’t live without us,” said Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.
But support in the US Congress for curbing assistance or making conditions on aid more stringent is rising rapidly.
A Senate committee voted this week to make conditioning of US assistance to Pakistan more rigorous and conditioned on its cooperation in fighting militants such as the Haqqani network.
“We are going to have to have an agonizing reappraisal of our relationship, and obviously amounts of aid and conditions on aid are going to be part of it,” said John McCain, a senior Republican senator and 2008 Republican presidential candidate.