ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s army on Thursday rejected as “negative propaganda” suggestions that it was not doing enough to combat al Qaeda and Taliban, hours after the top U.S. military officer accused its main intelligence agency of maintaining ties with militants.
The comments reflected deepening mistrust between the two uneasy allies, whose relations hit a new low after fatal shooting of two Pakistanis by Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor, in January in the city of Lahore.
“The Pakistan army’s ongoing operations are a testimony of our national resolve to defeat terrorism,” a military statement quoted army chief General Ashfaq Kayani as telling Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, during his fleeting visit to Pakistan on Wednesday.
“He (Kayani) strongly rejected negative propaganda of Pakistan not doing enough and Pakistan army’s lack of clarity on the way forward.”
Mullen, the most senior U.S. official to visit Pakistan since ties were badly strained over the Davis case, told a Pakistani television channel that links between elements of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Haqqani faction of the Afghan Taliban were continuing to strain the relationship.
“Haqqani is supporting, funding, training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners. And I have a sacred obligation to do all I can to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Mullen told Pakistan’s Geo television ahead of talks with Kayani.
Mullen is not the first U.S. official to point fingers at the ties between ISI and the Haqqani faction, but his forceful remarks suggest Washington is not about to back away from calls for Pakistan to take a more assertive stand as the United States prepares to begin withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan in July.
But despite the rising level of rhetoric, both sides have sought to mend their ties.
“Admiral Mullen lauded the sacrifices and efforts of (the) people of Pakistan and its security forces and reassured that security ties will not be allowed to unravel between the two armed forces,” a Pakistani military statement read.
Kayani, who last month issued a rare condemnation of a U.S. missile strike in a Pakistani tribal region near the Afghan border that killed more than 40 tribesmen, repeated his opposition to covert U.S. operations in the border regions, saying it was hurting Pakistan’s own war against militants.
“(Kayani) reinforced the government’s stance on drone strikes and emphasized that these not only undermine our national effort against terrorism but turn public support against our efforts, which remains the key to success.”
In the wake of the Davis case, some Pakistani officials have called for sharp cuts in drone attacks, an issue that was raised in talks last week in Washington between CIA director Leon Panetta and ISI chief Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha.
A U.S. official on Wednesday said the United States would not abandon its drone program, but how it goes forward was a matter for Pakistani and U.S. intelligence and military officials to determine.
Reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Alex Richardson