Panetta: Restoring Pakistan Relationship Critical to Afghanistan Success

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Dec. 12, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta expressed con­fi­dence today that the Unit­ed States and Pak­istan can patch up their dif­fer­ences, empha­siz­ing that “ulti­mate­ly, we can’t win the war in Afghanistan with­out being able to win in our rela­tion­ship with Pak­istan as well.”

The sec­re­tary said restor­ing the strained rela­tion­ship with the Unit­ed States crit­i­cal to long-term progress in Afghanistan. “I think it is going to be impor­tant, as we are able to move and progress in our efforts in Afghanistan, that we con­tin­ue to do out­reach in Pak­istan,” he said.

“It is essen­tial to sta­bil­i­ty in that region that we not only achieve a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion with regards to Afghanistan, but that we are able to devel­op a more sta­ble rela­tion­ship with Pak­istan as well,” he said. “If that region is ever going to find peace, it is going to hap­pen not only by achiev­ing sta­bil­i­ty in Afghanistan, but also by achiev­ing some degree of sta­bil­i­ty in Pak­istan as well.”

The U.S. rela­tion­ship with Pak­istan has been “dif­fi­cult and com­pli­cat­ed,” Panet­ta con­ced­ed. “But it is an impor­tant rela­tion­ship, and it is one we have to con­tin­ue to work at.”

The sec­re­tary not­ed that Pak­istan has pro­vid­ed impor­tant coop­er­a­tion to the Unit­ed States. “At the same time, we have had some seri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties with regards to some of the oper­a­tions that involve groups in the FATA [fed­er­al­ly admin­is­tered trib­al areas] and groups along the bor­der,” he said.

Strain between the two coun­tries increased after the May 2 raid that took down Osama bin Laden in Pak­istan, and inten­si­fied after a Nov. 26 engage­ment near Pakistan’s bor­der with Afghanistan that killed 24 Pak­istani sol­diers.

U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand is con­duct­ing a full inves­ti­ga­tion of the inci­dent, under the lead­er­ship of Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark from Air Force Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand.

“A num­ber of inter­views have been con­duct­ed,” to deter­mine fac­tors involved in the inci­dent, Panet­ta said. He expressed hope that the inves­ti­ga­tion will shed light on “exact­ly what hap­pened,” but said he has not yet received an update on any find­ings.

Mean­while, Panet­ta said Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, com­man­der of U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, reports that oper­a­tions are con­tin­u­ing to secure the bor­der areas.

Even before the bor­der inci­dent, Allen reached out to Pak­istani Army Chief of Staff Gen.Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to devel­op a rela­tion­ship that would allow the Unit­ed States and Pak­istan to bet­ter coor­di­nate and con­trol bor­der-area oper­a­tions to pre­vent inci­dents, he said.

“Obvi­ous­ly what took place has com­pli­cat­ed that rela­tion­ship,” Panet­ta said. “But I think the effort now is to try to see if we can restore that kind of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with regards to those bor­der inci­dents.”

The Unit­ed States also is work­ing to get Pak­istan to reopen ground sup­ply routes into Afghanistan it closed after the bor­der inci­dent. “I am con­fi­dent that will hap­pen,” Panet­ta said. “I remain con­fi­dent that at one point, we are going to be able to restore our nor­mal sup­ply routes.”

For now, Panet­ta said he’s sat­is­fied that troops have the sup­plies they need to con­tin­ue their oper­a­tions in Afghanistan. “Our com­mand struc­ture has done an incred­i­ble job ensur­ing that one way or anoth­er, we are able to get those sup­plies in,” he said.

Ulti­mate­ly, restor­ing a sol­id rela­tion­ship goes well beyond sup­ply routes and bor­der oper­a­tions, the sec­re­tary said.

And if there’s one thing he said he’s learned, both at CIA and at the Defense Depart­ment, it’s the need to con­tin­ue work­ing at the rela­tion­ship, even through “bumps in the road” and crises.

“The most impor­tant thing is to keep lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open and make sure we do every­thing we can to restore some degree of a rela­tion­ship that will allow us to be able to ful­fill our mis­sion,” he said.

Panet­ta empha­sized that the mis­sion of con­fronting ter­ror­ism sup­ports both the Unit­ed States’ and Pakistan’s inter­ests.

“The ter­ror­ism that threat­ens us also threat­ens them,” he said. “And if we can rec­og­nize that, despite our dif­fer­ences, there are some com­mon areas that we share in terms of our secu­ri­ty, then I think we can ulti­mate­ly find a way to resolve our dif­fer­ences and improve our rela­tion­ship,” he said.

The sec­re­tary also spoke about Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s request that Iran return a recov­ered U.S. RQ-170 drone air­craft to the U.S., say­ing the request was “appro­pri­ate.” How­ev­er, the sec­re­tary admit­ted that he did­n’t “expect that will hap­pen.”

Panet­ta said it’s dif­fi­cult to know how much engi­neer­ing know-how the Ira­ni­ans will be able to obtain from parts of the downed drone in its pos­ses­sion. “I don’t know the con­di­tion of those parts. I don’t know exact­ly what state they are in,” he said. “So it will be a lit­tle dif­fi­cult to tell exact­ly what they are going to be able to derive from what they have been able to get.”

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

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