By Arun Kumar
Washington: A top US military adviser to both presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush says the biggest challenge in the Afghanistan war is the safe havens that the insurgents enjoy in Pakistan.
“It’s not just about one country, it’s about both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and part of the biggest challenge is the safe havens that the insurgents enjoy in Pakistan,” Admiral Michael Mullen, who retired as chairman of the joint chiefs Friday after four years told CNN Sunday.
Asking Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Pakistani military to sever “direct and indirect” strategic ties with the dreaded Haqqani network to destabilize Afghanistan, he said: “In Haqqani is the most virulent insurgent group, terrorist group in Pakistan and a great supporter of Al Qaeda.”
“We’re losing Afghan civilians, Afghan soldiers, and we’re losing American soldiers because of the Haqqani network. And the link between the Pakistan military and specifically the ISI, their intelligence agency, is very well-known. And I have argued for the need to sever this link,” Mullen said.
“That also has to do with getting control of that safe haven. That’s not a new discussion. It’s not a new issue,” he said. “It’s long lasting. But the intensity of the recent events and the strategic support that the ISI and the Pak military both give to the Haqqani network directly and indirectly, is what I was focused on.”
Asked if his going public was a product of great frustration with the Pakistanis, Mullen said: “As a military leader and as somebody who feels responsible for the 2.2 million men and women in uniform, the effort or actions on the part of the Haqqani network to literally kill my people is something I just can’t tolerate anymore.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has “completely denied” charges that Islamabad does not fight militants who use Pakistan as a base to attack Afghans or Americans or Westerners or Indians.
“I would completely deny that. I think we’ve had joint cooperation,” she said in an interview to “CNN‘s Fareed Zakaria GPS” denying retired US military joint chief Mike Mullen’s charges that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has links with the Haqqani network, most deadly of the militant groups in Pakistan.
“I think we have had joint cooperation which goes back as recent as, you know, two weeks back when al Mauritani, who was number three supposedly in Al Qaeda was arrested in a joint intelligence cooperation-assisted arrest,” she said.
“Now within that the recrimination on Pakistan is something that we have serious reservations about,” she said. “We need to engage more, rather than disengage. Public recrimination of an ally is not the answer… should not be the answer.”
Asked if the Pakistani government would launch an offensive in North Waziristan against the Haqqani faction, Khar said that “it takes two to tango”.
“There are many things that the US would have to do… And it is not, by the way. Let me just assure you, it is not ‘please do this for us and then we will do this’. As I said, I think this relationship is over-defined by aid syndrome.”
Reacting to the argument that Pakistan has created a Frankenstein’s monster by supporting militant groups, many of whom have turned on Pakistan, Khar said: “First of all, this Frankenstein was not created by Pakistan.
“This Frankenstein was financed and assisted by many world powers, including that of the US. So we are left behind to sort out the mess as (if it’s) the affair of Pakistanis….”
Write to Arun Kumar at email@example.com