Dempsey: NATO, Pakistan Working to Improve Relations

LONDON, Nov. 28, 2011 — Express­ing his sym­pa­thy for the fam­i­lies of Pak­istani sol­diers killed by a Nov. 26 airstrike on the bor­der with Afghanistan, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told British reporters here today that NATO and Pak­istani offi­cials have been work­ing hard to improve strained rela­tions.

In inter­views taped for broad­cast tonight, Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey told ITV’s Bill Nealy and BBC’s Jere­my Pax­man that the inci­dent con­sti­tutes “a very chal­leng­ing issue on both sides.”

“[The Pak­istani peo­ple] have rea­son to be furi­ous, because they have 24 sol­diers dead, and the ord­nance that killed them was the ord­nance of a part­ner,” the chair­man said. “But I’d cer­tain­ly like to enlist their patience to find out what hap­pened and to try to work through this.”

Dempsey said he called Pak­istani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ash­faq Parvez Kayani imme­di­ate­ly after hear­ing of the inci­dent, not­ing that he and Kayani have known each oth­er since 1988, when both attend­ed the U.S. Army’s Com­mand and Gen­er­al Staff Col­lege at Fort Leav­en­worth, Kan. He said he promised the Pak­istani mil­i­tary leader that NATO will do all it can to inves­ti­gate the inci­dent and to work with the Pak­istani mil­i­tary to ensure this kind of inci­dent doesn’t hap­pen again.

The bor­der inci­dent is the most seri­ous he has been involved with, Dempsey said. Pak­istan has closed the bor­der cross­ings with Afghanistan in protest.

The chair­man stressed that Pak­istan and the Unit­ed States have com­mon goals and com­mon inter­ests, and that America’s rela­tions with Pak­istan on a mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary lev­el are still sol­id. But, he added, the Pak­istani who “doesn’t know the Unit­ed States, doesn’t read about the Unit­ed States or just watch­es some­thing on tele­vi­sion about the Unit­ed States, at that lev­el, [the rela­tions] are prob­a­bly the worst they’ve ever been.”

Dempsey also dis­cussed the Haqqani net­work and the threat it pos­es to Amer­i­can and NATO oper­a­tions in Afghanistan. He said he doesn’t know what con­nec­tions exist between the net­work and Pakistan’s Inter-Ser­vices Intel­li­gence orga­ni­za­tion.

“The Haqqani has been in [Pakistan’s fed­er­al­ly admin­is­tered trib­al area] for 20 years,” he said. “They’ve set up routes, they’ve built rela­tion­ships inside of Pak­istan [and] they have been sup­port­ed through­out the years, but whether they are act­ing at the bequest of the ISI, I’m not pre­pared to say that.”

U.S.-Pakistani rela­tions “are on about as rocky a road as I’ve seen,” Dempsey acknowl­edged.

“Is it irre­triev­able?” he asked. “I don’t think so. I think if we under­stand the seri­ous­ness with which this event is being viewed in Pak­istan, and they under­stand we are tak­ing it seri­ous­ly, then I think we will have at least the begin­nings of a oppor­tu­ni­ty to find our way through it.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)