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Pak's top US friend Admiral Mullen has no regrets about controversial ISI-Haqqani link statement

September 28, 2011 - Washington

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen has long been seen as Pakistan's closest friend in Washington.

Admiral Mullen has visited Islamabad 27 times since 2008 in his role as America's top uniformed officer, cultivated a bond with the Pakistani army chief of staff General Asfaq Pervez Kayani and, early in his tenure, said he believed Pakistan was serious about plans to take on militant groups that the U.S. wanted shut down.

But in recent months, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Admiral Mullen concluded that the partnership approach he long had championed had fallen short and would be difficult to revive.

He took that conclusion to Congress last week, where he declared publicly what until then had been confined to private remarks: that Pakistan's military intelligence service is collaborating with a militant group that the U.S. blames for attacks on Americans, including the shelling of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on September 13.

According to the WSJ, this shift by Admiral Mullen has infuriated officials in Islamabad, who deny supporting militants, and cast a pall of uncertainty over the tenuous U.S.-Pakistan bond.

Explaining his switch in the interview, Admiral Mullen, like many other U.S. officials, said the Americans are now going to have to take a tougher line in demanding Pakistan rein in militant groups.

He said: "I am losing people, and I am just not going to stand for that. I have been Pakistan's best friend. What does it say when I am at that point? What does it say about where we are?"

Admiral Mullen will step down this week after four years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a position he reshaped through his outspoken views on U.S. wars, foreign policy and military policies, especially involving the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military.

But he leaves with a muddled legacy on Pakistan, an area he made a top priority because its border region has been a haven for Al Qaeda and other militant groups intent on attacking U.S. interests.

He was disappointed when a major Pakistani offensive planned against Haqqani fighters in key tribal areas didn't happen, and a string of attacks by the militant group in recent weeks forced Admiral Mullen to drop his practice of refraining from public criticism of Pakistan.

Even now, though, he stressed that while Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency has provided strategic support to the Haqqanis, they don't necessarily control the details of the militant group's operations.

"It is very clear they have supported them. I don't think the Haqqanis can be turned on and off like a light switch. But there are steps that could be taken to impact the Haqqanis over time," he said.


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