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Pakistani army commanders hold special meeting after US allegations of helping militants
ISLAMABAD (AP) ' Pakistan's army chief will convene a special meeting of senior commanders Sunday following U.S. allegations that the military's spy agency helped militants attack American targets in Afghanistan, the army said.
Senior Pakistani officials have lashed out against the allegations of support for the Haqqani militant network, accusing the U.S. of trying to make Pakistan a scapegoat for its troubled war in Afghanistan. The public confrontation has plunged the already troubled U.S.-Pakistan alliance to new lows.
Pakistan's leaders have shown no indication that they plan to act on renewed American demands to attack the Haqqani network in its main base in Pakistan, even at the risk of further conflict with Washington. The U.S. has given Pakistan billions of dollars in military and economic aid.
The top U.S. military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, last week accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency of supporting Haqqani insurgents in planning and executing a 22-hour assault on the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan on Sept. 13 as well as a truck bomb that wounded 77 American soldiers days earlier.
Kayani, widely considered the most powerful man in Pakistan, has dismissed the allegations, saying the charges were baseless and part of a public "blame game" detrimental to peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also slapped down the accusations in a statement issued late Saturday.
"We strongly reject assertions of complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war," Gilani said in a statement. "The allegations betray a confusion and policy disarray within the U.S. establishment on the way forward in Afghanistan.
Pakistan claimed to have severed its ties with Afghan militants after the 9/11 attacks and supported America's campaign in Afghanistan, but U.S. officials have long suspected it maintained links. The comments by Mullen, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were the most serious yet accusing Pakistan of militant ties, although he didn't cite any specific evidence.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has implied that American forces could even carry out unilateral raids inside Pakistan against the Haqqani network, operations that could have explosive implications in Pakistan where anti-American sentiment is widespread.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar warned the U.S. on Saturday against sending American troops into Pakistan, saying there are red lines and rules of engagement that should not be broken.
"It opens all kinds of doors and all kinds of options," she told Pakistan's private Aaj News TV from New York. The comment was in response to a question about the possibility of U.S. troops coming to Pakistan.
Despite the seriousness of the U.S. claims, which appear to accuse Pakistan of state-sponsored terrorism, Mullen and other U.S. officials have said Washington needs to keep engaging with Islamabad, a reflection of its limited options in dealing with the nuclear-armed state.
The head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, echoed this sentiment following a meeting with Kayani in Islamabad. In a statement issued Sunday by the U.S. Embassy, Mattis emphasized "the need for persistent engagement among the militaries of the U.S., Pakistan and other states in the region."
Mattis also met with Pakistani military's chief of staff, Gen. Khalid Wynne, who expressed his concern about "negative statements emanating from the U.S." and stressed the need to address "the irritants in the relationship," according to a statement issued by the military.
Around half of the U.S. war supplies to Afghanistan are trucked over Pakistani soil, and even as it accuses Islamabad of complicity with Afghan insurgents, Washington knows that it will likely need Islamabad's cooperation in bringing them to the negotiating table.
Gilani also called for greater cooperation.
"Let's avoid mutual recrimination and recommit ourselves to working together for eliminating terrorism and for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan," he said.
Associated Press writer Chris Brummitt contributed to this report.