Pakistan calls Mullen's Haqqani claim baseless

Pakistani protesters shout slogans at an anti-American rally in Multan, Pakistan, Sept 23, 2011.
AP Photo

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's army chief dismissed U.S. allegations that his spy agency had helped Afghan militants attack the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, saying Friday the charges were baseless and part of a public "blame game" detrimental to peace in Afghanistan.

Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani's terse statement suggested Islamabad had no immediate intention of acting on renewed American demands that it attack the Haqqani militant faction in their main base in northwest Pakistan. It also ramped up a dispute between the two nominally allied nations that has exposed their increasingly deteriorating relationship.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Thursday accused the army's Inter-Services Intelligence agency of supporting Haqqani insurgents in planning and executing a 22-hour assault on the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan last week and a truck bomb that wounded 77 American soldiers days earlier.

Kayani said in a statement that the allegations were "very unfortunate and not based on facts."

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The claims were the most serious yet by an American official against nuclear-armed Pakistan, which Washington has given billions in civilian and military aid over the last 10 years to try to secure its cooperation inside Afghanistan and against al Qaeda.

Kabul attack a bad sign for Afghan security

Even more damning, if confirmed, is a Thursday report in The Guardian which claims the top U.S. NATO commander in the region specifically asked Pakistan's army chief to stop the truck bomb attack on the American base, which U.S. intelligence agencies saw coming.

According to the report, which cites no sources for the information, Kayani told U.S. Gen. John Allen on Sept. 8 he would "make a phone call" in response to the U.S. intelligence pointing to a truck bomb plot in the works.

Two days later, the bomber struck, indicating that Pakistan's army was either unable or unwilling to intervene - if the conversation detailed by The Guardian took place as stated.

Pakistani officials in Islamabad denied the report to CBS News' Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad. A source close to President Asif Ali Zardari told Bokhari the bombing alone was unlikely to have provoked the new, hard line coming from Washington towards Islamabad.

"I think the Americans have taken a step back and decided to raise the ante significantly," said the source. "There is no single provocation here."

Kayani's statement appeared to imply that Pakistan's contacts with the Haqqani network were part of efforts to bring it to the negotiating table. The United States, Kabul and European countries all agree that a peace deal will be needed to end the war, though not all agree on whether the Haqqanis, which have links to al Qaeda, should be included.

The statement said that "on the specific question of contacts with Haqqanis ... Admiral Mullen knows fully well which ... countries are in contact with the Haqqanis. Singling out Pakistan is neither fair nor productive."

Kayani, regarded as the most powerful man in Pakistan, said the "blame game" between it and the U.S. should give way to constructive dialogue over the future of a peaceful Afghanistan.

The Haqqani insurgent network is widely believed to be based in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan border. The group has historical ties to Pakistani intelligence, dating back to the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Mullen's words marked the first time an American official had tied Pakistan's intelligence agency directly to the attacks and signaled a significant shift in the U.S. approach to Islamabad. In the past, U.S. criticism of Pakistan largely had been relayed in private conversations with the countries' leaders while American officials publicly offered encouraging words for Islamabad's participation in the terror fight.

Mullen did not provide specific evidence backing up his accusations or indicate what the U.S. would do if Pakistan refuses to cut ties to the Haqqani network. The U.S. has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan attack the insurgents and prevent them from using the country's territory.