Pakistan on Friday denounced as "extremely irresponible" comments by the top ranking US military officer, that elements of the Pakistan government had sanctioned the killing of a Pakistani journalist in May.
The remarks by Admiral Mike Mullen are likely to place new strains on Pakistan-US ties, already seriously damaged following the killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces in Pakistan in May.
The death of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad prompted intense speculation about the possible involvement of the Pakistan military's powerful spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), but Mullen said on Thursday he could not confirm involvement of the ISI.
"If it is true, than the statement is extremely irresponsible," a Pakistani government spokesman said of Mullen's remarks, in a statement quoted by the official APP news agency. "It will not help in investigating the issue."
Shahzad, who worked for the Hong Kong based Asia Times Online, disappeared from Islamabad on May 29. His body was found in a canal two days later, bearing what police said were signs of torture.
In the most explicit remarks to date on the case by a senior US official, Mullen said he did not have a "string of evidence" linking Shahzad's death to a specific government agency. But, he added, "I have not seen anything that would disabuse that report that the government knew about this. It was sanctioned by the government, yeah," he told reporters from the Pentagon Press Association.
The government said it had set up a judicial commission to investigate Shahzad's death, and that any information "at national or international level" should be shared with the commission. "If any statement is issued other than this way, it will be considered an attempt to influence the proceeding of the Commission" the spokesman said.
"It seems that some elements are trying to use this issue against the elected democratic government and Pakistan."
Shahzad had been investigating and writing about alleged links between the ISI and militant groups.
He had reported that an attack on a major navy base in the southern port of Karachi in May was carried out by al Qaeda militants after talks failed to secure the release of two naval officials accused of having ties to militants.
The attack on the PNS Mehran base was launched after the killing of bin Laden by US Navy SEALs in a secret mission in the northwestern garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2. A small group of militants held out for 16 hours at the base against 100 commandos and rangers.
Bin Laden's killing and revelations, that he had lived for years not far away from the military's top academy, caused huge embarrassment for Pakistan's military and the ISI.