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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pakistani government “sanctioned” the killing of a journalist last month, a top U.S. military official said Thursday, but he said he could not tie the death to the country’s powerful intelligence service.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the beating death of the Pakistani reporter, Saleem Shahzad, and the reported abuse of other journalists is not the way for a government to move ahead.

“It’s a way to continue to, quite frankly, spiral in the wrong direction,” said Mullen, who has spent much of his four years as chairman working with Pakistani officials and encouraging them to take more aggressive action against militants in havens along the border with Afghanistan.

Shahzad’s death was widely blamed on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, but the ISI has denied involvement. His killing was followed a few weeks later by the beating of another Pakistani journalist by men wearing police uniforms.

Mullen, the first top U.S. leader to link publicly Shahzad’s killing to Pakistan’s government, has acknowledged the deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Islamabad. On Thursday, in comments to the Pentagon Press Association, he said Pakistan is still reassessing its relationship with the U.S., an already fragile bond that was fractured by the U.S. Navy SEALs raid deep into Pakistan in May that killed Osama bin Laden.

And as of now, Mullen said, he is not sure how it will turn out.

U.S. officials have expressed growing frustration with Pakistan’s unwillingness to go after militants who are hiding in havens along the border and routinely cross into Afghanistan to attack U.S. and allied forces.

Even as Mullen and other U.S. leaders stress the importance of America’s long-term relationship with Pakistan, members of Congress are pressing to cut funding to Islamabad or make aid contingent on more aggressive efforts to go after insurgents.

Militants groups seen as most dangerous in the ongoing Afghan war — the Haqqani network is one example — base their operations in Pakistan.

While acknowledging Pakistan’s failure to go after key insurgents, Mullen said Islamabad’s military has taken enormous steps, moving into some of the border areas and battling terrorists. Islamabad has failed, however, to stem the increasing flow of ammonium nitrate, a key bomb ingredient, into Afghanistan.

Used as fertilizer, ammonium nitrate is manufactured at a number of locations in Pakistan. U.S. officials would like Islamabad to better regulate it or fashion some type of coloring that would identify where it came from, when it’s discovered in bomb-making materials moving across the border.

Efforts to root out militant groups in Pakistan is considered an important element in the effort to wind down the war in Afghanistan so that U.S. troops can leave by the end of 2014 and turn security of the country over to the Afghans.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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