WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary and the military chief on Monday blamed the Haqqani network for this week’s terror attacks in Kabul as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the matter with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar by telephone.
Afghan Taliban attacked Kabul on Sunday with rockets and explosives in one of the most serious assaults on the capital in the past decade. They occupied high-rise construction sites and using them as bases, fought pitched battles with Afghan security forces.
“The intelligence indicates that the Haqqanis were behind the attacks that took place. And we had received a great deal of intelligence indicating that the Haqqanis were planning these kinds of attacks,” Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told a briefing in Washington.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said that evidence collected so far had not led American investigators to Pakistan but this could not be ruled out.
“I’ll just add that, though the evidence leads us to believe that the Haqqani network was involved in this, it doesn’t lead back into Pakistan at this time,” he said. “The Haqqani network exists on both sides of the border, so we’re not prepared to suggest this emanated out of Pakistan.”
But the general added that “the evidence may at some point lead us there, but we’re not there yet”.
In a related development, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that Secretary Clinton, who is visiting Brazil, telephoned the Pakistani foreign minister from Brasilia earlier in the day and discussed the attacks with her. Secretary Clinton “discussed the cowardly attacks in Afghanistan” with Ms Khar and “underscored our shared responsibility for robust action … to confront and defeat terrorists and violent extremists,” the spokesperson said.
At another briefing at the State Department, deputy spokesman Mark Toner said that Secretary Clinton spoke with the US ambassador in Kabul before calling the Pakistani foreign minister.
“They, of course, discussed yesterday’s attacks in Afghanistan. But they did (also) raise the parliamentary review process and our willingness to engage in a dialogue with Pakistan,” Mr Toner said.
Mr Toner said that while he could not discuss the specifics of Secretary Clinton’s conversation with Ms Khar, he could spell out the US position on parliamentary recommendations.
“We recognise that this has been a long and difficult road for Pakistan. It speaks, frankly, to the strength of Pakistan’s democratic institutions that this parliamentary review’s taken place,” he said.
Mr Toner noted that the civilian government had taken the lead on this issue, had owned it, and had come up with a series of recommendations.
“I think it’s incumbent on us now to engage with them in a discussion about some of those recommendations,” he said.
The secretary and the Pakistani foreign minister discussed only the parliamentary review and the attacks in Afghanistan, Mr Toner said when asked if the two leaders had also discussed other issues.
At the Pentagon, Secretary Panetta said the US was “always concerned” about the type attacks that took place on Sunday. “They reflect that the Taliban is resilient, that they remain determined.”
Mr Panetta noted that the Taliban made “no tactical gains” from these attacks which were “isolated attacks … done for symbolic purposes”.
The Taliban had not regained any territory and had not been able to really conduct an organised attack since last year, he said.
Yet, Mr Panetta acknowledged, that this was clearly the beginning of the spring offensive that the Taliban engaged in every year.
“What does it mean? It means we’re still in a fight. And I don’t think any of us have ever suggested there wouldn’t be fighting still needing to be done,” Gen. Dempsey added.