Pakistan army chief tells US: focus on Afghanistan

AP News
Posted: Oct 19, 2011 5:48 AM
Pakistan army chief tells US: focus on Afghanistan

Pakistan's powerful army chief said in a rare briefing to parliamentarians that the U.S. should focus its efforts on stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan, rather than pressuring Islamabad to step up its war against Islamist militants on Pakistani territory, a parliament member said Wednesday.

Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani's appearance before two parliamentary defense committees followed increased U.S. pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Haqqani militant network, believed to be based in the country's North Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan border.

The U.S. has deemed the Haqqani network the most dangerous threat to American troops in Afghanistan and has accused the Pakistan military's spy agency, the ISI, of supporting the militants _ an allegation denied by Islamabad.

"The real problem lies in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan," Kayani was quoted as saying by a parliament member who attended the three-hour briefing at army headquarters in Rawalpindi. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not open to the media.

The Pakistan army said in a statement that the briefing occurred, but did not provide details on the discussion.

Some analysts have accused the U.S. of focusing on Pakistan and the Haqqani network as a way to redirect blame over stuttering efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military has also sought to deflect blame for its failure to crack down on the Haqqanis by saying that NATO and Afghan forces need to do more to prevent militants from crossing over from Afghanistan and attacking Pakistan.

Kayani said his military could launch a full-scale operation in North Waziristan "tomorrow" if someone convinced him that the it was the root cause of problems in Afghanistan, said the committee member.

That represents a shift from the military's normal explanation for its lack of action in North Waziristan: that its troops are stretched too thin by operations in other parts of the tribal region against Pakistani Taliban militants at war with the state.

Unlike the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani network and the Afghan branch of the Taliban usually refrain from fighting the Pakistani army, instead focusing their attacks against Afghan and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Many analysts believe Pakistan has refused to target these groups because they could be important allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

Adm. Mike Mullen, who was until recently the top military officer in the U.S., claimed last month that the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of the ISI and accused the spy agency of helping the group carry out an attack against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Kayani said the ISI has contacts with the Haqqani network that it uses to get intelligence, claiming U.S. and British spy agencies do the same.

Mullen's comments outraged Pakistani officials and prompted local media speculation that the U.S. would launch a unilateral raid against the Haqqanis in North Waziristan, as it did on May 2 when it killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town.

Kayani said the U.S. should think "10 times" before launching such action because Pakistan was not Iraq or Afghanistan _ an implicit reference to the country possessing nuclear weapons with which it could defend itself.

The U.S. has urged Pakistan to shift troops away from its eastern border with archenemy India so that it can commit more soldiers to the fight against the Taliban in the northwest.

Kayani said he could not redeploy these soldiers because of the large number of Indian troops stationed on the border. Relations between the two countries have thawed somewhat in recent months, especially regarding trade, but Kayani said "intentions can change overnight."