Mullen: Long-term Relationship Vital Between U.S., Pakistan

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)

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