The U.S. military's top officer has accused Pakistan of supporting attacks by the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network on U.S. targets in Afghanistan, including last week's assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
The future of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan has come into greater question as the United States prepares to draw down its troop presence in Afghanistan. That relationship, which became significantly more tense following the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil earlier this year, has seen another sharp downturn with accusations by top U.S. officials that Pakistan was complicit in recent attacks in Aghanistan.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen told a U.S. Senate hearing Thursday that he is concerned about the impunity with which the Haqqani network and other extremist groups are allowed to operate from Pakistan. He said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, supported the truck bomb attack by Haqqani operatives on a NATO base on September 10 that wounded 77 U.S. soldiers, and the attack two days later on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Mullen said the Haqqani network’s ties to Pakistan’s government are deep.
"The Haqqani network, for one, acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s internal services intelligence agency.
Admiral Mullen also said he believes the United States should remain engaged with Islamabad. He has met with his Pakistani counterpart several times. But he warned that the relationship - and the future of Pakistan - could be in danger if the country continues to support extremists.
"By exporting violence, they’ve eroded their internal security and their position in the region. They’ve undermined their regional credibility and threatened their economic well being. Only a decision to break with this policy can pave the road to a positive future for Pakistan," he said.
Mullen spoke alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who told senators the presence of safe havens in Pakistan is giving the insurgents advantages they have otherwise lost.
"We cannot allow terrorists to have safe havens from which they launch attacks and kill our forces. We cannot allow that to happen and we have to bring pressure on the Pakistanis to do their part to confront that issue," said Panetta.
Analyst Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institution called the accusations against Paksitan a stunning development and a sign that U.S. frustration with Pakistan has reached a peak.
"I think Pakistan is just going to have to wake up and smell the roses that this is not consistent with an ongoing relationship in which the United States provides $3.5 a year in aid," said O’Hanlon. "Pakistan may feel they’re protected against an American reaction because we need their territory to bring in supplies and at some level that’s probably true. That’s why the aid level won’t go down to zero, but that and other things, I believe, are now at risk as a result of this very blunt assessment."
Pakistan’s government rejects U.S. accusations that it is helping extremists and says it is cooperating with the United States in the battle on militants in the region. The country’s interior minister says the Haqqani network is not operating in Pakistan.