ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani officials have been meeting with ambassadors and other foreign dignitaries seeking diplomatic support as the United States piles pressure on Islamabad to cut its alleged ties with a militant group blamed for attacks on U.S. targets.
The United States accuses the Pakistani army’s powerful spy agency of supporting the Haqqani militant group, a chief driver of violence in eastern Afghanistan.
In stunningly blunt comments last week, the outgoing U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen called the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of the ISI intelligence agency and accused Pakistan of providing support for the September 13 attack on its Kabul mission.
Pakistan’s government and army rejected the allegations.
Salim Saifullah, chairman of Pakistan’s Senate Foreign Relations committee, said he and other officials held talks with diplomats to explain Pakistan’s stand as the United States pushes the Pakistani army to go after the Haqqani network.
“We have been meeting with diplomats with the purpose to convey Pakistan’s point of view, and also that they should make the United States understand that we have sacrificed so much,” he told Reuters.
He did not name the countries with which the discussions had taken place.
“We are willing to go along but not at the cost of being humiliated and told that ‘you’re responsible for the Kabul attack and you are responsible for this thing and that’. That is not appropriate.”
About 5,000 soldiers and security forces have been killed fighting militants and 30,000 civilians have died since Pakistan joined the U.S. “war on terror” launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks, which the United States doesn’t appreciate, Pakistani officials say.
Pakistan will almost certainly seek the backing of China. Pakistan and China are long-time allies, and in recent months Islamabad has leaned closer to China as its ties with the United States have deteriorated.
China’s Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu arrived in Islamabad on Monday and was scheduled to meet senior officials.
“China is always there for us,” said Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik as he welcomed Meng.
The United States has long pressed Pakistan to pursue the Haqqani network, one of the most lethal Taliban-allied Afghan groups fighting Western forces in Afghanistan.
Mullen’s accusation that Pakistan uses violent extremism as an instrument of policy was the strongest yet leveled at Pakistan since it joined the U.S.-led war on militancy.
Two weeks ago, militants launched an assault against the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul. U.S. officials blamed those attacks on the Haqqani network.
U.S. officials said there was intelligence, including intercepted phone calls, suggesting those attackers were in communication with people connected to Pakistan’s principal spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate.
Pakistan denies it supports the Haqqanis and says its army is too stretched battling its own Taliban insurgency to go after the network, which has an estimated 10,000-15,000 fighters.
Pakistan’s military will not take action against the Haqqani militant group, despite mounting American pressure to do so, a Pakistani newspaper reported on Monday.
Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani held a “special” meeting with his top commanders on Sunday to discuss the security situation, the military said, after a week of tension and tit-for-tat rhetoric with the United States.
Kayani was scheduled to leave for London on Sunday night but the trip was postponed, the Pakistani military said on Monday.
The Pakistani commanders agreed to resist U.S. demands for an army offensive in North Waziristan, where the United States believes the Haqqani network is based, the Express Tribune reported, quoting an unnamed military official.
“We have already conveyed to the U.S. that Pakistan cannot go beyond what it has already done,” the official told the newspaper on condition of anonymity.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is expected to present Pakistan’s case when she addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
American Ambassador Cameron Munter met with Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir on Monday to defuse tensions.
Underscoring the magnitude of tensions, Pakistani stocks ended nearly 3 percent lower on Monday following worsening relations between Islamabad and Washington, dealers said,
Analysts say the Pakistani military could suffer heavy casualties if it were to attempt a crackdown on the group, which has developed extensive alliances with other militant organizations in the region.
Widespread anti-American sentiment in Pakistan also makes it difficult for the army to cave in to U.S. pressure.
“Are we responsible for the attacks that Taliban do throughout the country?” asked Khan Alam Marwat, 40, a car salesman in Islamabad. “It was a big mistake of our rulers that they supported Americans.”
Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Sahar Ahmed in Karachi; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Sanjeev Miglani