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Pakistani PM Gilani hits back at U.S. accusations

Sep 24, 2011, 11:38 a.m.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani reviews the troops during a ceremony at the Invalides in Paris May 3, 2011. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

By John Chalmers

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan shot back on Saturday at U.S. allegations that its powerful spy agency supports the Haqqani militant group fighting coalition troops in Afghanistan, describing them as a sign of American "confusion and policy disarray."

"We strongly reject assertions of complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war," Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said, breaking off from a speech to aid agencies and foreign diplomats on the country's flood disaster.

He was responding to comments on Thursday by outgoing chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) was linked to militant groups who carried out the September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

"The allegations betray a confusion and policy disarray within the U.S. establishment on the way forward in Afghanistan," Gilani said in his address, delivered at an Islamabad hotel that was the target of a suicide truck bombing in 2008 that killed at least 54 people.

"The propaganda blitz against Pakistan is indeed most unfortunate. It vitiates the atmosphere and is counter-productive. It tends to ignore the sacrifices by the people of Pakistan and negates all that we have endeavored to achieve over the last so many years."

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 terror," analysts say elements of the ISI refused to make the doctrinal shift.

Mullen bluntly described the Haqqani militant network, the most violent and effective faction among Islamist Taliban militants in Afghanistan, as a "veritable arm" of the ISI, and accused Pakistan of providing support for the Kabul attack.

It was the most serious allegation leveled by Washington against the nuclear-armed South Asian nation since 2001, and the first time it had held Islamabad responsible for an attack against the United States.

Gilani's foreign minister told Washington on Friday that it risked losing an ally if it kept accusing Islamabad of playing a double game in the war against militancy, and was 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.

"Pakistan cannot be held responsible for the security of U.S./NATO/ISAF forces in Afghanistan," Gilani said. "It is as much the responsibility of the Afghan National Army, NATO and ISAF not to allow such cross-border militancy."

"Joint operations and coordination are essential. Let's be objective and not get carried away by emotions."

(Editing by Chris Allbritton)

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