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Pakistan will not attack Haqqani group, defying U.S.: report

Sep 25, 2011, 9:48 p.m.
Girls hold placards while standing on a U.S. flag during an anti-U.S. rally in Hyderabad September 25, 2011. REUTERS/Akram Shahid

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's military will not take action against a militant group Washington blames for an attack against its embassy in Kabul, despite mounting American pressure to do so, a Pakistani newspaper reported on Monday.

Pakistan's 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.

That emergency meeting 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 commanders agreed to resist U.S. demands for a Pakistani 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.

The United States has long pressed its ally Pakistan to pursue the Haqqani network, one of the most lethal Taliban-allied Afghan groups fighting Western forces in Afghanistan.

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.

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, and has mastered the rugged mountain terrain.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, who heads the group, says it no longer needs sanctuaries in Pakistan, and it feels safe operating in Afghanistan.

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.

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 ISI.

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. On Saturday night, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani rejected U.S. allegations as a sign of American "confusion and policy disarray."

(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Daniel Magnowski)

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