By Peter Sullivan - 10/09/11 01:40 PM EDT
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are defending Mike Mullen after he publicly linked the Pakistani government to terrorism.
Mullen, who recently resigned as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ignited controversy last month when he told Congress that the Taliban-allied Haqqani network “acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI.
The Haqqani network has been behind various attacks, including the September truck bombing of a NATO base in Afghanistan that wounded 77 U.S. soldiers and the prolonged assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that left five Afghan police officers and 11 civilians dead.
However, many members of the Congressional Pakistan Caucus support Mullen’s comments.
“Based on the intelligence that we have received, yes, I am in basic agreement with Admiral Mullen,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) told The Hill. “[I] believe that the ISI sees the Haqqani network as a strategic asset against India. That overriding interest — some would say obsession — has caused the ISI to provide support to the Haqqanis.”
The criticism from the Pentagon came from officials speaking anonymously to The Washington Post, with one source saying that Mullen’s testimony “overstates the case.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney likewise tamped down Mullen’s remarks by telling reporters, “That’s not language I would use.”
But by and large, lawmakers don’t have a problem with what Mullen said.
Asked if he agrees with the admiral who recently retired, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) told The Hill, “I do basically.”
“We don't do any favors by ignoring reality. By us speaking out we can encourage the pro-American elements in Pakistan to speak out,” said King.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said, “We want to have good relations with Pakistan. The Pakistani people have a lot to offer. We have a lot of common interests, but Admiral Mullen knows what he’s talking about.”
Following Mullen’s testimony, President Obama argued that it’s not easy to ascertain exactly what the Haqqani-ISI relationship is, telling radio host Michael Smerconish, “The intelligence is not as clear as we might like in terms of what exactly that relationship is, but my attitude is, whether there is active engagement with Haqqani on the part of the Pakistanis, or rather just passively allowing them to operate ... they’ve got to take care of this problem.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), co-chair of the Pakistan Caucus, shared this sentiment while expressing agreement with Mullen.
“I understand Admiral Mullen’s frustration and I will join in his frustration,” Jackson Lee told The Hill. “I expect ISI to pierce the violence that is occurring on Pakistani soil and hurting the Pakistani people...ISI has to be held responsible.”
Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.) struck a different chord with a recent op-ed in the Washington Times, rejecting the U.S. “heavy-handed” military approach and advocating for a focus on improving the quality of life for Pakistanis.
Honda believes Mullen’s congressional testimony “went too far,” according to Michael Shank, the lawmaker’s communications director.
The Pakistan embassy in Washington, D.C. did not comment for this article.