Mullen: Pakistan's Spy Agency Has Terrorist Links

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is on a delicate mission to Pakistan. With relations already frayed, Mullen shot back with his own specific complaints about the relationship between Pakistan's spy agency and one of the main Afghan insurgent groups.

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The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen is in Pakistan this week, and he's been speaking bluntly. He has assailed what he called continuing ties between Pakistan's intelligence agency, known as the ISI, and a network affiliated with the Afghan Taliban. NPR's Julie McCarthy has more now on the admiral's tough talk.

JULIE MCCARTHY: U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen, a statesman-like military man, did not mince his words. Mullen told Pakistani GEO television last night that at the core of Pakistan's troubled relations with the United States are the ISI's links with the Afghan militant group known as the Haqqani Network, whose ties date back to the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union.

MIKE MULLEN: The ISI has a long- standing relationship with the Haqqani Network. That doesn't mean everybody in the ISI, but it's there. I believe over time that's got to change and that's the kind of focus I try to bring in my discussions with General Kayani and my other - the other leaders here in Pakistan. It's not going to happen overnight.

MCCARTHY: Rarely have U.S. officials been so open and unequivocal about the ISI links to the Haqqanis. An ISI spokesman declined to comment. One newspaper called Admiral Mullen's words a hardening of the U.S. position.

Analysts here said the candid talk from the most senior military official in the United States was a signal from the Americans to the Pakistanis saying you cannot have it both ways, you cannot be with the militants and say you are with us.

But some inside Pakistan's intelligence establishment see militants such as the Haqqanis as the best bet for Pakistan to retain influence in Afghanistan when the war is over.

Retired Lieutenant General Talat Masood says Pakistan's thinking is that it cannot afford to antagonize such militants, who are likely to stay after the Americans pull out. And he says the difference in approach is the crux of the U.S.-Pakistan tensions. The Americans want the Haqqanis to be neutralized and the Pakistanis don't want to do it.

TALAT MASOOD: They think it is firstly not achievable, and even if they did major operations in Pakistan's tribal belt, the militants may again come back.

MCCARTHY: The case of Raymond Davis, a CIA employee who killed two Pakistani men in Lahore in January, vividly exposed the groundswell of anti-American opinion here, a fact that Admiral Mullen acknowledged.

He was asked whether those circumstances didn't require the U.S. to dispel the impression it was acting as a lone wolf in Pakistan instead of unleashing a blitz against the Pakistanis. The Admiral said he was personally involved in improving relations, but added the citizens of Pakistan are facing threats that cannot be ignored.

Among the gathering threats, according to Mullen, is the emergence beyond Pakistan of its homegrown militants. He singled out Lashkar e Taiba, or LeT, as it's known. Nurtured by Pakistan's intelligence establishment to infiltrate Indian-held Kashmir, LeT militants are now on trial for the bloody siege of the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.

MULLEN: LeT has expressed global aspirations. And so what I've seen in this region is what I would call this syndication of terrorist organizations. They're not a part of each other, but they - they have - there's more and more common ground, if you will, or common interests that they threaten. And I think we all need to do as much as we can to eliminate that as fast as possible.

MCCARTHY: Admiral Mullen said he would raise the threat of groups such as Lashkar e Taiba going global in meetings today.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

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