ISLAMABAD — The U.S. ambassador to Islamabad said in remarks broadcast Saturday that there is evidence linking the Haqqani insurgent network to the Pakistani government, a charge that could raise tensions in an already strained anti-terror alliance between Washington and Islamabad.
The U.S. and NATO blame the Haqqani network for many of the attacks in Afghanistan, including this week's strike on the U.S. Embassy. The group – affiliated with both the Taliban and al-Qaida – and its army of several thousand fighters is widely assumed to be based just over the Afghan border in Pakistan.
U.S. officials have long suspected links between the Pakistan military and the Haqqani network.
But needing Pakistani cooperation to beat al-Qaida and stabilize Afghanistan, they rarely say so publicly and as directly as Ambassador Cameron Munter did in an interview with Radio Pakistan that was broadcast Saturday.
"The attack that took place in Kabul a few days ago that was the work of the Haqqani Network," Munter said during the interview. "And the facts, that we have said in the past, (is) that there are problems, there is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government. This is something that must stop."
Pressed for what evidence the U.S. had linking Haqqani to the embassy assault, Munter said, "Well, it's just we believe that to be the case."
A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman declined to comment until she had heard the interview.
The Pakistani army has resisted attacking North Waziristan and the Haqqanis because it believes the group does not pose a direct threat to the country. The army is engaged in a bloody fight elsewhere in the tribal region against militants that have responded with hundreds of suicide bombs around the country in recent years.
Officers say that making enemies of the Haqqanis now could tip the country into even greater turmoil.
Experts say U.S. plans to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 and its current efforts to seek peace with the Afghan Taliban make it even less likely that Pakistan will act anytime soon.
The army also believes it will be able to use the group, with which it has ties going back to the U.S.-backed resistance against Soviet rule in Afghanistan, to ensure its archenemy India does not gain a foothold there once the American troops leave.
In a statement Friday at a NATO meeting in Spain, Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani appeared to allude to that, saying Pakistan had a "sovereign right to formulate policy in accordance with its national interests and the wishes of the Pakistani people."
American is under pressure to show success in Afghanistan ahead of its planned troop withdrawal in 2014, and has been pressing the Pakistani military to act against the Haqqani network for at least two years, without success. The attack on the Kabul embassy by a team of assailants exposed further tensions in a relationship still foundering following the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.
On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed frustration with Pakistani inaction against the insurgent network and issued what was construed here as a veiled warning that Washington may take unilateral action against the militants. The Foreign Ministry said his remarks were "out of line" with the two nations' anti-terror cooperation.