Washington: The US` just retired top military commander, Admiral Mike Mullen, whose remarks on ISI`s links to the Haqqani network had recently kicked up a storm in Pakistan, said on Sunday the association was "very well-known" and but Islamabad needs to sever it.
"Haqqani is the most virulent insurgent group, terrorist group in Pakistan and a great supporter of al Qaeda. We`re losing Afghan civilians, Afghan soldiers, and we`re losing American soldiers because of the Haqqani network," Mullen, the just retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN in an interview.
Mullen said the ISI-Haqqani connection was not a new phenomenon and he did not expect it to end overnight, but a "concerted effort" was needed to be made towards finishing off these links.
"The link between the Pakistan military and specifically the ISI, their intelligence agency, is very well-known. And I have argued for the need to sever this link. That also has to do with getting control of that safe haven. That`s not a new discussion. It`s not a new issue. It`s long lasting," Mullen said when asked why he went public only now against the ISI and its links with the Haqqani network.
"But the intensity of the recent events and the strategic support that the ISI and the Pakistani military both give to the Haqqani network directly and indirectly, is what I was focused on," Mullen said in defence of his remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month where he said that ISI used the Haqqani network as a veritable arm.
He said as a military leader and as somebody who feels responsible for 2.2 million men and women in uniform, he could not "tolerate anymore" the actions of the Haqqani network "to literally kill my people". "I don`t expect it to stop overnight. Again, I don`t think that`s possible. But I think a concerted effort on the part of responsible people could have a big impact," Mullen said.
"And (Defence) Secretary (Leon) Panetta sat beside me in the same testimony that we would do whatever we can to protect our people, and we`ll do exactly that," he said.
Mullen said Pakistan needs to take action against the Haqqani network and cut off links with it.
"There needs to be without being specific about how it would be done literally, this effect needs to cut off the Haqqani network, needs to be generated. How to do it, whether it should be an operation, whether it should be by other means, I`m not sure," he said.
He, however, also said he sympathised with Pakistan which had itself lost soldiers fighting terror.
"I am very sympathetic to the fact that General Kayani`s got some 150,000 troops deployed to that border. He`s moved tens of thousands over the course of these last couple of years, they`ve lost.”
"They`ve sustained thousands and thousands of casualties. They`ve lost a lot of civilians. So, there are huge challenges there. And I do understand that.”
"And over time there is a possibility to have a military operation, have that kind of effect. We`re in a much better situation in terms of cross border coordination than we were a couple of years ago. That said I don`t see that occurring in the near future," Mullen said.
Mullen said with a growing terrorist challenge, Pakistan faces the threat of its nuclear arms falling into the hands of insurgents, which would be a very dangerous scenario.
"In Pakistan, you have a country that is very challenged from an economic standpoint, who has a growing internal terrorist challenge of its own, and it`s a nuclear-armed country," said Mullen.
"So the worst case for me is to see Pakistan deteriorate, and somehow get to a point where it`s being run by insurgents who are in the possession of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons technology which would mean that that part of the world would continue to deteriorate and become much more dangerous," Mullen said.
"So I think the focus is the right focus, and I think we`re certainly moving forces at a measured rate, and in a way that we think the Afghans will be able to provide for their own security after we complete transition at the end of 2014," he said.