In a meeting with Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Seville, Spain, on Friday, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) Admiral Mike Mullen reportedly told his Pakistani counterpart that he would like to see the Pakistani military act against the safe havens of the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Special Assistant for Public Affairs for the CJCS Captain John Kirby said that Admiral Mullen had expressed his “deep concerns about the increasing and increasingly brazen activities of the Haqqani network.”
In a private one-on-one meeting that lasted for over two hours, Admiral Mullen and General Kayani agreed that the US-Pakistan relationship was “vital to the region and that both sides had taken positive steps to improve that relationship over the past few months.” Kirby said the two discussed the state of military-to-military cooperation and pledged to continue to find ways to make it better.
It was the first meeting between the pair since the May 2 military raid in which US Navy Seals, without first notifying Islamabad, killed Osama bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad.
Pakistan and US relations continued its downward spiral after US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta said that the US could take unilateral action against the Haqqani network based in Pakistani territory similar to that taken against bin Laden.
Since then, the clamour for Pakistani action against the Haqqani network has increased in US diplomatic circles with the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Congressman Mike Rogers and US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter both stressing that Pakistan needs to take action against the Haqqani Network.
In a twist, Sirajuddin Haqqani in a message said that there were no Haqqani sanctuaries in Pakistan, adding that its members had moved over to the Afghan side.
The Pakistan government on Sunday appeared to shy away from a public rebuttal of American claims.
Though security officials denied the charge, none of them were willing to speak on the record, which apparently suggests Pakistan has been caught off guard by the strong US position taken against the Haqqani network.
“It is unfair and unjust to dump your failures on us,” reacted a senior military official to the US allegations.
However, the official acknowledged that Pakistan, like the US, did maintain contacts with the Haqqani network only for the purpose of peace and the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
“Even the US is in contact with the Haqqanis and Pakistan’s contact with the group does not in any way mean we are encouraging them to attack on the US forces in Afghanistan,” the official said.
The comments reflect Pakistan’s belief that the Haqqani network has to play a key role in the future political dispensation of Afghanistan.
Another official insisted Pakistan has been doing “what it could to stop the infiltration of militants from across the border.”
“All communication towers in the tribal areas have been shut down since 2009, so if there is any contact between militants from the two sides, it is only possible through mobile towers on the Afghan side,” he explained.
When approached, foreign ministry spokesperson Tehmina Janjua declined to comment on the fresh US allegations and said the issues would be taken up at a meeting between Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York.
Officials say Pakistan is likely to issue a comprehensive response to US accusations once Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Foreign Minister Khar return home.
Despite strained relations, Pakistan is seen as key to US military operations in Afghanistan, where the US is to trying to beat down a resilient Taliban insurgency.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2011.