WASHINGTON: Gloves are off as US Secretary of Defencethreatened to take “operational steps” against Pakistan while the American military chief Admiral Mike Mullen accused the ISI of having used its “veritable arm” for attacking the US Embassy in Kabul.
Weeks of incessant pressure on Pakistan to undo the Haqqani network, which also brought the ISI chief to Washington on Tuesday, led to the final showdown on Thursday at a Senate hearing where Admiral Mullen also blamed Islamabad for jeopardising a strategic partnership with the United States.
“I don’t think it would be helpful to describe what those options would look like and talk about what operational steps we may or may not take,” Secretary Panetta told the Senate Committee on Armed Services when asked what actions could the US take against Pakistan if it failed to curb the Haqqani network.“Are Pakistani leaders aware of what options are open to us so that they’re not caught by any surprise if in fact we take steps against that network?” asked the committee’s chairman Senator Carl Levin.
“I don’t think they would be surprised by the actions that we might or might not take,” said Mr Panetta while noting that US leaders had recently had a series of meetings with Pakistani leaders on the issue.
Admiral Mullen, who in previous congressional hearings had defended Pakistan, joined Mr Panetta, indicating that all US leaders were united in backing a possible punitive action against the country should it fail to act against the Haqqani network.
“The Haqqani network, for one, acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s internal services intelligence agency. With ISI support, the Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” he told the committee.
“We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the June 28th attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller, but effective operations.”
The scene for the showdown was set by Senator Levin who, in his opening remarks, described cross-border attacks from Fata as “the foremost threat” to the US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani group, he said, was operating from North Waziristan and the Afghan Taliban Shura from Quetta.
“I was glad to read a few days ago that Pakistan’s leaders have been personally informed that we are in fact going to… act more directly,” he said, informing the committee that he had repeatedly written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to have the Haqqani group added to the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organisations.