Islambad: Pakistan on Friday criticised as "extremely irresponsible" remarks from the top US military officer saying that Islamabad may have approved the killing of a Pakistani journalist.
Admiral Mike Mullen, when asked about media reports that the Pakistani government approved Saleem Shahzad`s killing, said: "I haven`t seen anything that would disabuse that report."
"His (death) isn`t the first. For whatever reason, it has been used as a method historically," Mullen told reporters at a Pentagon Press Association luncheon.
In a statement released by the information ministry, the government described Mullen`s remarks, if true as attributed, as "extremely irresponsible" and said it "does not help" in getting to the bottom of Shahzad`s death.
The government last month set up a judicial commission to investigate how the reporter died and the information ministry said such comments could be considered an attempt to influence the outcome of the inquiry.
While acknowledging Pakistani officials have denied the government had any role in the death of Saleem Shahzad, Mullen said the episode raised worrying questions about the country`s current course.
"It`s not a way to move ahead. It`s a way to continue to quite frankly spiral in the wrong direction," said Mullen, who has held numerous meetings with Pakistani counterparts during his tenure as chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mullen`s remarks are sure to aggravate already strained relations between the uneasy allies after the US raid north of Islamabad in May that killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, which was carried out without Pakistan`s knowledge.
Asked if Pakistan`s intelligence service had been behind the killing of the journalist, Mullen said he could not confirm that allegation.
The New York Times, citing US officials, reported Monday that the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency ordered the killing of Shahzad to muzzle criticism.
The ISI has denied as "baseless" allegations that it was involved in the murder of Shahzad, who worked for an Italian news agency and a Hong Kong-registered news site.
Shahzad, who had reported about militants infiltrating the military, went missing en route to a television talk show and his body was found May 31 south of the capital, bearing marks of torture.
He disappeared two days after writing an investigative report in Asia Times Online saying Al-Qaeda carried out a recent attack on a naval air base to avenge the arrest of naval officials held on suspicion of links to the global terror network.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered an inquiry into the kidnapping and murder, pledging that the culprits would be "brought to book."
Citing mounting tensions over the past year, Mullen acknowledged the US relationship with Pakistan is "under extraordinary pressure."
Washington was "committed to sustaining that relationship," he continued.
The military`s top-ranking officer, who is due to step down at the end of September, confirmed the US military presence in Pakistan had been dramatically scaled back at Islamabad`s request.