Kayani denounces negative propaganda about Pak forces

Islamabad: Hours after a top American military official said that ISI`s continued links with the militant Haqqani network are at the core of the strained US-Pak ties, Pakistan`s powerful army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has strongly rejected the notion calling it "negative propaganda".

Kayani, in a statement, contended that Pakistan Army`s "ongoing operations (against militants) are a testimony of our national resolve to defeat terrorism".

He "strongly rejected negative propaganda of Pakistan not doing enough" against militants and his force`s "lack of clarity on the way forward".

Kayani`s statement came after Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff who was on a visit to Pakistan yesterday, referred to the military-run ISI`s links to the Taliban faction led by militant commander Jalaluddin Haqqani that is based in the country`s North Waziristan tribal region.

"It`s fairly well known that the ISI has a longstanding relationship with the Haqqani network and addressing the Haqqani network from my perspective is critical to the solution set in Afghanistan…that`s at the core ? it`s not the only thing ? but that`s at the core, that I think is the most difficult part of the relationship," he had said.

"Haqqani is supporting, funding, training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners. And I have a sacred obligation to do all I can to make sure that doesn`t happen," Mullen told the Dawn newspaper.

The daily said, Mullen was in a "mood to name and shame" and made it clear that the ISI`s links with the Haqqani network were at the core of problematic bilateral relations.

Mullen also said in an interview with a TV channel that elements in the ISI, and not the whole spy agency, were linked to the Haqqani network.

"The ISI has a long-standing relationship with the Haqqani network. That doesn`t mean everyone in the ISI, but it`s there," he said.

The ISI`s relationship with the Haqqani network is unacceptable to the US leadership, he said.

"The ISI has a rich history of how they operated in this part of the world, to protect their own country. I understand that some of the aspects of that we strongly disagree with, and that is something that we continue to address," he said.

The Haqqani network`s presence in the tribal areas has long been a sore point in the US-Pakistan ties and Mullen`s remarks indicated a hardening of the American stance.

The situation led to the conclusion "that…the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is the epicentre of terrorism in the world," he said.

The ISI has been accused of maintaining ties with the Haqqani network since the campaign against Soviet occupying forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Pakistan, which has denied such ties, has consistently spurned US demands to move troops into North Waziristan Agency to flush out the Haqqani network.

The Haqqani network does not carry out attacks within Pakistan and uses North Waziristan as a base for launching strikes on US and foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Analysts believe the Pakistani military wants to use Haqqani to project its influence in a future political set-up in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops.

Meanwhile, Kayani reinforced the Pakistan government`s position to US drone strikes and said that they undermined "our national effort against terrorism" and "turn public support against our efforts, which remains the key to success".

But Mullen made it clear that the US is not likely to yield on issues that the Pakistan military is concerned about.

He indicated that there would probably be no reduction in drone strikes, which are mostly carried out in North Waziristan Agency, until the ISI dissociated itself from the Haqqanis.

He also hinted that there would be no reduction in the CIA`s presence in Pakistan ? an issue that is believed to have dominated recent contacts between the ISI and the CIA, including ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha`s recent visit to the US.

Mullen, often criticised for being soft on the Pakistan military, is not the first US official to accuse elements of the ISI of having links to the Haqqani network.

His blunt remarks came against the backdrop of strains in US-Pakistan ties in the wake of the arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Davis in Lahore in January and continued US drone strikes in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

Davis, who was arrested after he shot and killed two armed men believed to have ties with the ISI, was freed in March after over two million dollars was paid under a "blood money" deal to the families of the dead men.

Despite his release, diplomatic ties and contacts between the ISI and CIA have remained strained.

The US has categorised the leaders of the Haqqani network as global terrorists and offered a five million-dollar reward for information leading to the arrest of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the group established by his father Jalaluddin.