ISLAMABAD , Sep 18 – There is evidence linking the Pakistani government with the Taliban-allied Haqqani network of militants, the US ambassador in Islamabad said, blaming the group for last week’s siege in Kabul.
In blunt comments broadcast by state-run Radio Pakistan on Saturday, ambassador Cameron Munter said: “Let me tell you that the attack that took place in Kabul a few days ago, that was the work of the Haqqani network…
“There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government. This is something that must stop,” Munter said.
His remarks follow a warning by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said after the Kabul attack — in which rebels fired rockets at the US embassy and NATO headquarters, leaving 15 dead — that the US would retaliate against Pakistan-based insurgents.
The US has long urged Pakistan to take action against the Haqqani network and suspected the group had support within Pakistan’s feared intelligence services.
But the public comments are a mark of strained ties between the fragile anti-terror allies, with relations fractious since the US raid on Pakistani soil that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May.
Asked to provide evidence of the link with the Pakistani government, Munter said only “we believe that to be the case”.
Acknowledging that the past year had been “tough”, he urged joint action against terrorism and said that the United States and Pakistan were “fundamentally on the same side”.
There was no immediate reaction from Islamabad to the allegations but the Pakistani government has strenuously denied any links to militant groups.
The Haqqani network is thought to have been behind some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan, where NATO plans a gradual withdrawal of troops after a gruelling 10-year war.
Militants frequently cross the porous Afghan-Pakistani border and the Haqqanis, who are closely allied with Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and also linked to Al-Qaeda, only launch attacks in Afghanistan.
“The key here is that this is going to take a real effort to work together, to identify who the enemy is,” Munter said.
Jalaluddin Haqqani, founder of the network, and his son Sirajuddin, who now runs the group, have both been designated “global terrorists” by Washington.
Sirajuddin claims to command more than 4,000 fighters and his network was blamed for a suicide bombing in 2009 in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA operatives.
US officials have accused Pakistani intelligence of playing a double game with extremists, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, in order to exert influence in Afghanistan and offset the might of arch-rival India.
“Time and again we’ve urged the Pakistanis to exercise their influence over these kinds of attacks from the Haqqanis and we’ve made very little progress in that area,” Panetta said Wednesday, a day after the Kabul siege.
“I’m not going to talk about how we’re going to respond. I’ll just let you know that we’re not going to allow these kinds of attacks to go on,” he said.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry condemned those remarks as “out of line”, saying that “terrorism and militancy is a complex issue”.
The top US and Pakistani military leaders met late on Friday on the sidelines of a NATO conference in Spain in the hope of improving ties.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen and his counterpart General Ashfaq Kayani, seen as the most influential figure in Pakistan, sat down for more than two hours.
“They agreed that the relationship between our two countries remained vital to the region and that both sides had taken positive steps to improve that relationship over the past few months,” Mullen’s spokesman Captain John Kirby told AFP.
The 19-hour Taliban assault on Kabul turned the city’s most heavily secured district into a battle zone, with six foreign troops wounded in the attack.
NATO’s force in Afghanistan said Thursday it captured two suspects over the siege — which was claimed by the Taliban — one of them a member of the Haqqani network and the other a Taliban militant who had also planned vehicle-bomb attacks.
Before the Kabul attack, the US military blamed Haqqani militants for a truck bombing on September 10 against a NATO base in Wardak province, which wounded 77 American troops.
Thousands of Pakistani troops have been killed fighting insurgents, but Islamabad has focused mainly on combatting the Pakistani Taliban.