ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s powerful army chief General Ashfaq Kayani met with his top commanders on Sunday in a “special” meeting to discuss the security situation, the military said, as the war of words with the United States escalated.
The extraordinary meeting of the corps commanders came against the backdrop of sharp U.S. allegations that the Pakistani army’s powerful spy agency supported the Haqqani militant group Washington blames for the recent attack on its embassy and other targets in Kabul.
“The prevailing security situation was discussed,” military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said without giving details.
Kayani, who is departing for London later on Sunday to address the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Royal College of Defense Studies, chaired the meeting.
Separately, the U.S. CENTCOM commander General James N. Mattis met with Chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Khalid Shameem Wyne, who expressed concern over the “negative statements emanating from (the) U.S.”
“He (Wyne) stressed upon addressing the irritants in relationship which are a result of an extremely complex situation,” the military said in a statement.
“He reiterated that Pakistan armed forces are committed to achieving enduring peace in the region which will only be possible through mutual trust and cooperation.”
In the most blunt remarks by a U.S. official since Pakistan joined the U.S.-led war on militancy in 2001, the outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on Thursday testified before the U.S. Senate that the Haqqani militant network is a “veritable arm” of the Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of the Pakistan army.
He also for the first time held Islamabad responsible for the Kabul attack, saying Pakistan provided support for that assault.
The Pakistan government as well as the army rejected the allegations and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani spoke to political leaders by telephone on Sunday and decided to call a meeting of to discuss the issue of tensions with the United States.
On Saturday night, Gilani rejected U.S. allegations as a sign of American “confusion and policy disarray.”
Gilani’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar told Washington Friday that it risked losing an ally if it kept accusing Islamabad of playing a double game in the war against militancy and escalating a crisis in ties triggered by U.S. forces’ killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in an unannounced raid in May.
Abbas acknowledged that army’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence maintained contacts with the Haqqani network, but said that didn’t mean it supported it.
“No intelligence agency can afford to shut the last door of contact,” he told Reuters.
“Maintaining contact doesn’t mean that you are endorsing or supporting that terrorist organization.”
The Haqqani network is the most violent and effective faction among Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
Although Pakistan officially abandoned support for the Taliban after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001 and allied itself with Washington’s “war on terrorism,” analysts say elements of the ISI refused to make the doctrinal shift.
A U.S. senator said Washington would have to get tougher in confronting Pakistani support for militant networks.
“We need to put Pakistan on notice,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican member of the Armed Services Committee.
“If they continue to embrace terrorism as part of their national strategy we’re going to have to put all options on the table, including defending our troops,” he told Fox News.
Graham also said Washington needs to make billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan more conditional on cooperation.
Additional reporting by Chris Allbritton and Qasim Nauman, and by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Ed Lane