Pakistan's shadowy intelligence agency actively backed last week's deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, according to America's top soldier. That blunt and public accusation against a supposed ally seemed certain to further weaken already-frayed relations between the Obama administration and Islamabad's shaky regime.
Pakistan has opted to "use violent extremism as an instrument of policy," Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate hearing Thursday. His damning indictment of Pakistan was doubly damaging because Adm. Mullen has been a forceful advocate of working with Pakistan during his tenure.
Relations with nuclear-armed Pakistan – difficult for decades – have soured in recent months. Pakistan was humiliated and infuriated over the clandestine special forces raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and exposed Pakistan's air defences and war readiness as pathetic. Pakistanis were outraged when an American undercover operative killed two Pakistanis on a Lahore street and then, claiming diplomatic immunity, was returned home without trial.
Meanwhile, top U.S. officials have been increasingly public in voicing their frustrations over what they see as the duplicity and unreliability of a supposedly key ally in the war against Islamic extremism.
But Adm. Mullen's blunt accusation that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency is actively backing murderous attacks on Americans and American targets was the toughest to date.
"With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted a truck bomb attack [that wounded 77 U.S. soldiers on Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks]as well as the assault on our embassy," Adm. Mullen said at a Senate hearing, his final congressional testimony before retiring next week.
He said Pakistan was also behind the spectacular June 28 attack on the Kabul Inter-Continental ``and a host of other smaller but effective operations" aimed at undermining the Karzai government in Afghanistan which U.S. and allies forces are trying to prop up.
The admiral accused Pakistan of using the Haqqani extremist group and others as proxies. "The Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency," he said.
Pakistan rejected the accusation.
At the same hearing, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta verged on threatening U.S. military strikes inside Pakistan unless Islamabad moves against the Haqqanis.
"They must take steps to prevent the safe haven that the Haqqanis are using," Mr. Panetta said. "We simply cannot allow these kinds of terrorists to be able to go into Afghanistan, attack our forces and then return to Pakistan for safe haven."
Ever since the fall of 2001, when then-president George W. Bush gave Pakistan a blunt ultimatum – either break with the Taliban, then ruling Afghanistan, or risk being attacked by the United States – Islamabad has walked a perilous path.
While it ostensibly allies itself with the United States, the Pakistani government behaves as though it expects America to lose interest in the region – just as it did when the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan ended – leaving Pakistan to cope with the chaos that may follow.