Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani yesterday called a “special” meeting of his top commanders to discuss the security situation, the military said, as the war of words with the US escalated.
The extraordinary meeting of the corps commanders came against the backdrop of sharp US allegations that the Pakistani army’s spy agency supported the Haqqani militant group Washington blames for the recent attack on its embassy and other targets in Kabul, Afghanistan.
In a terse two-line statement, the military said the commanders would “review [the] prevailing security situation.”
Kayani, who was scheduled to depart for London late yesterday to address the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Royal College of Defence -Studies, chaired the meeting.
“The meeting reflects the gravity of crisis,” retired general turned security analyst, Talat Masood said. “They will issue a statement to express solidarity [within the military] and to show that they all are on one page.”
The corps commanders meeting comes a day after Kayani met with US Central Command Commander General James Mattis in Pakistan, but Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said the two meetings were “unrelated.”
In an interview with CNN, Abbas acknowledged that the army’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) maintained contacts with the Haqqani network, but said that did not mean it supported the group.
“Any intelligence agency would like to maintain contact with whatever opposition group, whatever terrorist organization ... for some positive outcome,” he told CNN in a telephone interview.
However, he said there was a huge difference between maintaining those contacts to facilitate peace and supporting it against an ally.
In the most blunt remarks by a US official since Pakistan joined the US-led war on terror in 2001, the outgoing chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on Thursday testified before the US Senate that the Haqqani militant network was a “veritable arm” of the ISI.
He also for the first time held Islamabad responsible for the Kabul attack, saying Pakistan provided support for that assault.
The Haqqani network is the most violent and effective faction among Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
On Saturday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani rejected US allegations as a sign of US “confusion and policy disarray.”
“We strongly reject assertions of complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war,” Gilani said, breaking off from a speech to aid agencies and foreign diplomats on the country’s flood disaster.
Although Pakistan officially abandoned support for the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US and allied itself with Washington’s “war on terror,” analysts say elements of the ISI refused to make the doctrinal shift.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told Washington on Friday that it risked losing an ally if it kept accusing Islamabad of playing a double game in the war against militancy and escalating a crisis in ties triggered by US forces’ killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in an unannounced raid in May.
The sharpened rhetoric between Pakistan and the US could lead to a “collision,” Masood said
One of the options for Pakistan, he said, could be to put pressure on Haqqani fighters to leave Pakistan to avert a confrontation.
“I think both Pakistan and the United States will step back to avoid making things worse,” he added.
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