Washington seems to have gone into damage control. In what would be considered an official response to the wild and crazy accusations by a defeated general who wanted his excuses for the defeat recorded on the eve of his retirement-the Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung have written a front page column in the Washington Post which is todays’s Washington Post headline “Mullen’s Pakistan remarks criticized”. Interestingly enough, the headline for the paper is different than the headline of the articles which says “Adm. Mullen’s words on Pakistan come under scrutiny.”
The criticism of Admiral Mullen’s statements come from Pentagon sources. The backtracking is subtle, measured and nuanced, however there is some level of withdrawal from the position that the “Haqqani Network is a veritable arm of the ISI”. According to DeYoung and Miller, officials in the Pentagon say that while the Pakistan provide the Haqqanis “santuaries”, “funding” and “support”, it may be a stretch to say that the Haqqanis are a military unit of the ISI which takes its orders from the ISI.
The Washington Post story identifies “the internal criticism by the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to challenge Mullen openly, reflects concern over the accuracy of Mullen’s characterizations at a time when Obama administration officials have been frustrated in their efforts to persuade Pakistan to break its ties to Afghan insurgent groups”.
To the ordinary layman the subtle difference may be lost, but it surely does describe a difference. The very fact that the WP carried a story which is critical of the person in charge of the war in Afghanistan leads analysts to believe, that his parting shot at Pakistan is being taken with a pinch of salt. What is important about the story is the fact that it prompted “new levels of indignation among senior officials in both the United States and Pakistan”. What is important in the story is the fact that it highlights that there is indignation in Washington over Mullen’s remarks. The Pakistanis of course have reacted to the accusations as almost a “declaration of war.” and are busy preparing a diplomatic and national response. All political parties have been invited to a All Party Conference in Islamabad and the army top brass got together to mull over the options.
The US may have been trying to put pressure on Pakistan, and Young and Miller say that Mullen may have crossed the line, ever so gently in the application of pressure, to blatant accusations. The US wants the pressure on Islamabad, and it does want Pakistan to chase out the Haqqanis, but somewhere in the pressure is a fine line, which in the eyes of the Pentagon officials-Mullen may have crossed.
The WP story says “Mullen’s language ‘overstates the case,’ said a senior Pentagon official with access to classified intelligence files on Pakistan, because there is scant evidence of direction or control.” While Mullen’s statement may have given the impression that there is “direction and control, Pentagon and Washington sources seem to backtrack from that accusation.
In effect, the US is clearly saying that the ISI did not direct the Kabul attacks “The Pakistani government has been dealing with Haqqani for a long time and still sees strategic value in guiding Haqqani and using them for their purposes,” the Pentagon official said. But “it’s not in their interest to inflame us in a way that an attack on a [U.S.] compound would do.”
U.S. military officials said that Mullen’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee has been misinterpreted, and that his remark that the Haqqani network had carried out recent truck-bomb and embassy attacks “with ISI support” was meant to imply broad assistance, but not necessarily direction by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
“Can they control them like a military unit? We don’t think so.
The WP story clearly says “But Mullen’s pointed message and the difficulty in matching his words to the underlying intelligence underscore the suspicion and distrust that have plagued the United States and Pakistan”. The WP story and the Pentagon officials quoted in the story seem to suggest that Mullen’s testimony has not been bought by all arms of the US government, including the Pentagon. Words of a defeated general are being weighed in the crucible of facts, and it seems that Mullen seems to have stretched the truth or just lied.
The Pakistanis have been yelling at the top of their voices that they have contacts with the Haqqanis, just like the US has contacts with the Talibs. How else would the US be talking to the Talibs.
Pakistani officials acknowledge that they have ongoing contact with the Haqqani network, a group founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was one of the CIA-backed mujaheddin commanders who helped drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Now in poor health, Haqqani has yielded day-to-day control of the network to his son, Sirajuddin.
Whatever the US does to dampen the damage done by Admiral Mullen, the fact is that the Pakistanis have taken this to be a threat from an unreliable ally. The firestorm in the Pakistani media is reflective of the anger felt in Pakistan. The fiery speeches in the “All Parties Conference” and the discussions in the local and National assemblies in Pakistan are proof on how the Pakistanis feel. All this strengthens the hawks in Pakistan that want to break military relations with Washington and want to focus on an alliance with Iran, China and Russia and the region.