ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Another major attack on American interests in Afghanistan by Pakistan-based militant groups would greatly damage the alliance with Islamabad, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday.
The official was voicing Washington’s frustrations with Pakistan and its failure to tackle safe havens in its territory that militant groups such as the Haqqani network use to launch attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The official specifically referred to an attack in September on an American base in Wardak province that wounded 77 American troops and a 20-hour siege of the U.S. embassy in Kabul that killed nine.
“A spectacular raid or a set of spectacular mis-steps, which are possible, could take the relationship much more in a direction that would be detrimental for both countries,” the official said from Islamabad, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the relationship.
Both attacks were blamed on the Haqqanis. The former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral, Mike Mullen, has said the Haqqanis are a “veritable arm” of Islamabad’s top spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The Haqqani network is a militant group allied with the Taliban that was started by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who rose to prominence in the 1980s receiving weapons and funds from the CIA and Saudi Arabia to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
Although considered to be a part of the larger Taliban umbrella organization headed by Mullah Omar and his Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqanis maintain their own command and control, and lines of operation.
“You need to encircle them, not let them have free travel, prevent them from trying to get into Afghanistan,” the U.S. official said.
“Cut them off from funding. Cut them off from information. And let them know that there will be a price to be paid from both the Americans and the Pakistanis if you do what you did at the embassy in Kabul, or in Wardak.”
The official said she was not expecting a Pakistani military offensive against the Haqqanis.
Mullen’s allegation outraged the Pakistanis, but they later said they do maintain contacts with the Haqqanis -- as do many spy agencies -- but do not support them.
“We have never paid a penny or provided even a single bullet to the Haqqani network,” ISI chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha told Reuters days after the attacks.
The Pakistanis are equally frustrated with the United States. Pakistani officials often complain that Washington woos Islamabad only when it needs something and that it does not care about Pakistan’s other problems, such as its staggering economy, lack of development and disputes with India.
In a two-day visit to Islamabad in October, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Pakistan needed to “squeeze” the Haqqanis in a bid to limit their ability to attack NATO troops and bring them to the negotiating table.
Editing by Robert Woodward