Pakistan Responds To Sharp Accusation From U.S.

Pakistan lashed out at the U.S. for accusing the country's most powerful intelligence agency of supporting extremist attacks against American targets in Afghanistan. Steve Inskeep talks to Alex Rodriguez, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, about what Pakistan had to say.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host: And let's go next to Pakistan, which is responding to a sharp accusation from the United States. The top American military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, who has been a frequent visitor to Pakistan, says that Pakistan's intelligence service supported a militant group, a militant group that, in turn, attacked the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Alex Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Times is following this story. He's on the line from Islamabad.

Welcome to the program.

ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: How are Pakistanis responding to this accusation? Americans, of course, have said similar things in the past, but this is a serious charge from a serious man.

RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, and they are taking the allegations very seriously. However, they - right now, they are responding with some pretty vehement denials, and also with a good degree of indignation. The foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, in New York had some pretty strong words, saying that the alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan could be in jeopardy if these accusations continue. So, you know, it's a difficult situation for both sides, and - but especially for the U.S., in part because I think Pakistan realizes that the U.S., in the end, doesn't have a whole lot of leverage to get Pakistan to do anything about the Haqqani Network. And so that puts Washington in a bit of a bind.

INSKEEP: You just referred to the Haqqani Network. That is the group that is accused of being behind the attack of this embassy in Kabul. Would you just describe who they are and how it would be that Pakistan's intelligence service would be involved with them at all?

RODRIGUEZ: Sure. Absolutely. The Haqqani Network is a very volatile wing of the Afghan-Taliban that has used the tribal region of North Waziristan on the Afghan border in Pakistan as its sanctuary for several years. The relationship with Pakistan, and specifically the ISI, goes back to the days of Soviet occupation in the 1980s, when Pakistan - as well as the U.S., of course - supported the mujahedeen effort against the Soviets.

Pakistan and the ISI have retained ties with the Haqqani Network since then, and, of course, even after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. And so for Pakistan, the Haqqani Network, they see it as an important asset, an important hedge against a time when the U.S. eventually leaves Afghanistan post-2014. And Pakistan is concerned that India would increase its influence in Afghanistan, and so they regard the Haqqani Network as a hedge against that potential Indian influence down the road.

INSKEEP: So the way that the Pakistanis would be involved is they have maintained their links with this militant group that they think could be influential in Afghanistan in the future. I should mention that

RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely. They think that, you know, the Taliban is not going to go away in Afghanistan. And so maintaining this relationship, they think, is best for their interests, because they are still very fearful that the U.S., despite all the rhetoric coming from Washington, that the U.S. will eventually leave Afghanistan and the region and again abandon the region, as they did after the end of the Soviet occupation.

INSKEEP: Now, we should mention that if you talk on the record to Pakistan officials, they will look you in the eye and say: We have no relationship with this group. We have no reason to support them. They're terrorists, and we don't like them. Is there any doubt in Islamabad that the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency actually is working with the Haqqani Network?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I mean, if you talk to experts who have been following both the tribal areas and the Haqqani Network and the intelligence community here for a long time, they will say that that linkage, that relationship exists, and it's a very important - regarded as a very important relationship by the ISI.

Yes, you're right. The generals and the leaders here will never confirm that, of course, they will always deny it. But nevertheless, I think many experts here who have been watching this for a long time know that that relationship exists.

INSKEEP: Alex Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Times is in Islamabad. Thanks very much.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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