Flags of Pakistan and India
Flags of Pakistan and India

The war of words between Washington and Islamabad has reached a new high after the U.S. claimed that the Pakistan's spy service is backing violence against U.S. targets in Afghanistan and put the spotlight on the Pakistani government.

The secret raid organised to kill al-Qaeda leader on 2 May, was the clear illustration that Washington has never been convinced of the loyalty of some of the personnel of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and accusations of the agency supporting some militants to extend its influence in Afghanistan and counter India, have emerged for some time.

Despite months of speculation and tensions, followed by reassuring statements that cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan was of primordial importance surfaced in both camps, but a new accusation launched by U.S. Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen had this week exposed the extent of suspicions in the American camp.

Thursday 23 September, Admiral Mike Mullen openly described the Haqqani militant network as a "veritable arm" of the ISI and even implied Pakistan has provided support for the group's 13 September attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

The blunt statement should however not come as a surprise since the U.S. have repeatedly accused Pakistan of not doing enough to fight off the Taliban operating on the territory, despite both government pleging to work together since the beginning of the 'war on terror' in 2001.

With Mullen now attacking the Pakistani intelligence agency, analysts say that the ball is now in Pakistan's camp. Despite the south Asian country's insistence that authorities are determined and committed to fight of militants insurgencies, the authorities have failed to convince not only the U.S. but also other major powers that it is really doing all it can.

The government has also repeatedly been accused of lacking transparency.

Pakistan's ISI have been accused of double standard in the past and is particularly feared by Pakistanis, with many claiming it employ tens of thousands of agents, and has informers present in different factions of the Pakistani society.

The relationship between the ISI and the U.S. Pakistan's equivalent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has also often been described as a mix of distrust and cooperation, with suspicions reigning in both camps.

The ISI was created in 1848 and became more important in the international realm during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and supported the Afghan mujahedeen along with the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The move however later backfired as some of the Afghan fighters later on as famously used the training they had received to create the Taliban.

After 9/11 however Pakistan officially abandoned support for the Taliban and vowed to fight along the U.S. but analysts insist part of the ISI refused to make the ideological shift and accusation of the ISI helping the Taliban and Al-Qaeda members escape the U.S. radar have since then become recurrent.

Also despite the U.S. call for focus on the Taliban and Afghanistan, Pakistan also has regional aspirations and has focused parts of its foreign policy on trying to counter-balance and limit its rival India.

Pakistan was accused of being involved in and supporting Islamist factions that fought Indian forces over Kashmir in the 1990s, and now analysts in the U.S. think it is trying to use the Taliban as tools to limit India's role in Afghanistan.

Also, when militants killed 166 people in New Delhi in 2008, Indian authorities very rapidly put the blame on the ISI saying they had helped organise the attacks.

Seen in that light it seems that while the U.S. is pushing for more transparency with Pakistan it also need to take into account the geopolitical and regional aspirations of Pakistan even though it might disagree with them. Expecting Pakistan to focus on the U.S. national interests without taking into account Islamabad's regional aspirations and clashes is not realistic.

As long as India and Pakistan's relationship is based on rivalry, resentment and suspicion, Pakistani secret services are likely to mobilize some of their resources to focus on limiting India's influence in the region, leading to even more distrust.

Moreover Pakistani authorities are also in a difficult position as anti-American feeling in the country is quite high, putting pressure on the government. With the accusation against the ISI now in the open, it will be interesting to see what Pakistan's next step is.