ISI's links with Haqqani network at core of US-Pak differences: Mullen

Islamabad, April 21(ANI): The US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, has categorically stated that the Inter-Services Intelligence's continued links with the Haqqani network are at the core of Pakistan's problematic relations with the United States.

"It is fairly well known that ISI had a relationship with the Haqqani network, and addressing the Haqqani network from my perspective is critical to the solution set in Afghanistan. ... that's at the core - it's not the only thing - but that's at the core that I think is the most difficult part of the relationship," the Dawn quoted Admiral Mullen, who is quite often criticised for being soft on the Pakistan military, as saying in an interview.

He made it clear that ISI's relationship with the terror network was unacceptable to the American leadership.

"The ISI has a rich history of how they operated in this part of the world, to protect their own country; I understand that some of the aspects of that we strongly disagree with and that is something that we continue to address," said Admiral Mullen.

The Haqqani network had fuelled the Afghan insurgency by supporting, training and funding fighters who were killing US and coalition troops in Afghanistan, he added.

Admiral Mullen, who arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday, depicted a destabilising scenario in which terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network would become increasingly interlinked.

"What I worry about all these organisations, whether it is Haqqani network, Al Qaeda, JuD, LeT... there is a syndication which has occurred in the region here over the course of last three years, which is more and more worrisome and increasingly so TTP, under [Hakimullah] Mehsud, has espoused aspirations outside the region," he pointed out.

The situation led to the conclusion "that this area... the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is the epicentre of terrorism in the world," he added.

But more damning were his comments that "it [the terrorism in the region] breeds and breeds more and more in terms of capability over time".

Though the Haqqani network's presence in the tribal areas and the army's reluctance to go after them has been a sore point in Islamabad-Washington relations for some time now, Admiral Mullen's words indicate a hardening of the American stance.

It is noteworthy that both the Pakistan Army and the ISI have repeatedly denied these allegations, and have asked for evidence in support of such charges.

Admiral Mullen also indicated that there would be probably no reduction in the Central Intelligence Agency's footprint in Pakistan or in the drone attacks, which are mostly aimed at North Waziristan- the base of the Haqqanis- until the ISI dissociates itself from the terror network.

"I have a sacred obligation to do all I can to make sure that" the network is no longer able to support insurgents in Afghanistan, the military officer said.

On more than one occasion during the interview, Admiral Mullen suggested a close collaboration between India, Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with the terror threat emanating from the tribal areas. (ANI)