ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 14, 2010 — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is in Pakistan today on his 21st visit to a key ally in the war against extremists in Central Asia.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen will meet with Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, and other U.S. and Pakistani leaders.
“We will update each other and where we stand on certain issues,” Mullen said, adding that he wants the Pakistani military’s take on what is happening in the region. In addition to his 21 trips here, Mullen also has met often with Pakistani leaders in Washington and elsewhere.
One significant challenge is simply defining mutual interests and objectives, the chairman said on the plane trip here. “The best way I know how to do that is an individual meeting,” he said.
Mullen said he will not brief Kayani on the White House’s Afghanistan-Pakistan review, because it is not done yet. The two military leaders will discuss the continuing problem of militants along the Afghan-Pakistani border and the problems associated with Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, the chairman said.
The stolen classified materials published on the WikiLeaks website may complicate the situation, Mullen acknowledged, but he said he is comfortable his relationship with military leaders in Pakistan can handle any awkward issues. They will discuss hard issues, and his relationship will allow that, he said.
Mullen said he hopes to get a read-out of the Pakistani floods that devastated the country over the summer. He and Kayani surveyed the damage in an extensive helicopter tour the last time the chairman was in Pakistan, and the Pakistani military was heavily involved in flood relief.
The floods affected millions of people throughout some of the most populated areas of the nation. Whole villages were destroyed, and large areas were submerged. The Pakistani army had to take personnel, helicopters and vehicles from its military efforts along the border to help in the humanitarian disaster.
Dealing with the Taliban sanctuaries is a priority, Mullen said, noting that the Pakistani chief of staff has met with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, on the issue.
“It gets back to this alignment or misalignment of interests,” the chairman said. “The [Pakistani military] is under attack from these extremist organizations. This is a country we continue to try to build trust with, have a relationship with and get our interests aligned so we’re both clearly headed in the same direction.”
Mullen said he believes in reconciliation in Pakistan and Afghanistan with people who see the error of their ways and wish to affiliate with the government. “That should be encouraged, but I also fundamentally believe there are irreconcilables,” Mullen said.
The engagement with Pakistan doesn’t begin and end with the chairman. Officers and noncommissioned officers in both countries have trained and worked together since relations were re-established in 2002. American trainers have worked with the Frontier Scouts, and Pakistani commanders down to company level now are familiar, at least, with Americans, he said. Many Pakistani officers have taken professional military education courses in the United States, and U.S. officers have attended the Pakistani version of the War College. All this means that people are building trust at a personal level with a key ally, Mullen said.
The chairman stressed that Americans have not been involved in any combat operations with the Pakistan military. The United States is impatient to see the Taliban sanctuaries eliminated, he added, but U.S. leaders must exercise “strategic patience” with the Pakistanis to build the trust necessary to forge a good alliance.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)