WASHINGTON, June 2, 2011 — Pakistan’s senior military leaders believe a long-term relationship with the United States is important despite ongoing tensions between the countries, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the Defense Writers Group that during recent meetings in Pakistan — one in April and one last week with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — military, political and diplomatic leaders committed to working with the United States on mutual issues such as terrorism.
“It is important to figure out how we can engage each other, particularly in these areas that mutually threaten us,” Mullen said. “At the top of that list is the terrorism threat in that country, in that region, that affects all of us.”
Ongoing tensions have intensified since the May 1 death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of American forces inside his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Mullen said.
Discovery of the al-Qaida leader in Pakistan, where he had lived for at least five years, has prompted investigations and the formation of a commission by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to seek the facts surrounding bin Laden’s presence there, the admiral said.
Mullen said he has seen no evidence that senior military or government leaders knew about the compound. The discovery also caused a period of “internal introspection” for the Pakistani army, he added.
“They’re going to have to get through that,” he said, “and I think we need to give them the time and space to do that. … When something happens, you’re going to ask a lot of questions, and that’s what they’re doing right now.”
Over three and a half years, Mullen and Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani army’s chief of staff, have developed what the admiral calls “a very strong personal and professional relationship.” Such a relationship “is critical, and even more critical in difficult times than in times when things are going well,” the chairman said.
“It would be almost impossible to be picking up the phone for the first time and calling him or going to see him for the first time in the middle of this crisis and expect to have anything happen,” he added.
Pakistan is a critical country in a critical region, Mullen said.
“They’re tied directly to our success against al-Qaida, they’re tied directly to our potential success in Afghanistan, and it’s a region that we walked away from many years ago and here we are,” he said.
The admiral said coalition forces in Afghanistan have taken “enormously positive steps in the east” over the past year.
“Helmand is almost turned, … and certainly Kandahar is a different place than it was a year ago,” he added.
Challenges there are still substantial, Mullen added, noting that he remains concerned about the Afghan government’s ability to provide for its people at the provincial, district and sub-district levels.
Another challenge involves a Pakistani effort to do more to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries in North Waziristan, where the Haqqani network and other extremist groups use the tribal-area province to plan and launch attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan.
In meetings in Pakistan with Clinton, Mullen said, “I was encouraged by the commitment on both sides to work in particular the terrorist issues jointly.”
North Waziristan and the Haqqani network are central to a long-term solution with respect to instability and terrorism in that area, Mullen added. “It’s something that we routinely discuss,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)