U.S.-Pakistan Must Keep Communications Lines Open

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2011 — The U.S.-Pakistan rela­tion­ship is com­pli­cat­ed, but the two coun­tries must keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open, said Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates dur­ing his last news con­fer­ence today.
Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the mutu­al depen­dence is too strong for either coun­try to end rela­tions with the oth­er.

“It is com­pli­cat­ed, but as … I’ve said often before, we need each oth­er, and we need each oth­er more than just in the con­text of Afghanistan,” Gates said. “Pak­istan is an impor­tant play­er in terms of region­al sta­bil­i­ty and in terms of Cen­tral Asia. And so my view is that this is a rela­tion­ship where we just need to keep work­ing at it.”

Mullen said the rela­tion­ship is still crit­i­cal, and he will con­tin­ue to work with Pak­istani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ash­faq Kayani.

“What the Pak­istani military’s going through right now, obvi­ous­ly is con­sid­er­able intro­spec­tion based on recent events,” Mullen said. “That makes a lot of sense to me. They’ve got some ques­tions. I know Gen­er­al Kayani well enough to know (that) what he cares about the most is not him­self: What he cares about the most is his insti­tu­tion.”

Pak­istan is a part­ner against ter­ror­ists, Gates and Mullen said. They point­ed out that Pak­istan has 140,000 troops along its bor­der with Afghanistan. The Pak­istani mil­i­tary has cleaned South Waziris­tan and the Swat Val­ley of the Tal­iban.

The Unit­ed States ships a major­i­ty of its sup­plies to Afghanistan across Pak­istan, and keep­ing those lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open is also lit­er­al­ly and fig­u­ra­tive­ly impor­tant. Final­ly, both men point­ed out that Pak­istan is a nuclear coun­try. Main­tain­ing good rela­tions with Pak­istan could help ensure nuclear know-how or even weapons don’t fall into the hands of ter­ror­ists.

Gates respond­ed to a ques­tion about Ayman Zawahiri’s “pro­mo­tion” to lead a‑Qaida. “I’m not sure it’s a posi­tion any­body should aspire to, under the cir­cum­stances,” he said. “I think he will face some chal­lenges. Bin Laden has been the leader of al-Qai­da, essen­tial­ly since its incep­tion. In that par­tic­u­lar con­text, he had a pecu­liar charis­ma that I think Zawahiri does not have. I think he was much more oper­a­tional­ly engaged than we have the sense Zawahiri has been. I’ve read that there is some sus­pi­cion with­in al-Qai­da of Zawahiri because he’s Egypt­ian.”

The al-Qai­da announce­ment, though, high­lights the fact that the orga­ni­za­tion is not going away, its leader still hate Amer­i­ca and it remains com­mit­ted to ter­ror, the sec­re­tary said.

Amer­i­cans are wor­ried about the war in Afghanistan. He said that that with the excep­tion of the first cou­ple of years of World War II, “there has nev­er been a pop­u­lar war in the Unit­ed States in our whole his­to­ry. They’ve all been con­tro­ver­sial.”

He said the war weari­ness rests heav­i­ly on all. “The key is how do we com­plete our mis­sion, as we have large­ly done in Iraq, in a way that pro­tects Amer­i­can nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests and the Amer­i­can peo­ple and con­tributes to sta­bil­i­ty?” Gates said. “I think most peo­ple would say we’ve been large­ly suc­cess­ful in that respect in Iraq. I think we’re on a path to do that in Afghanistan.”

The cost of the wars are huge, but it is declin­ing. “The costs of these wars will go down between FY ’11 and FY ’12 by $40 bil­lion, from $160 (bil­lion dol­lars) to less than $120 bil­lion,” Gates said. “There’s every rea­son to believe that between FY ’12 and FY ’13 there would be anoth­er sig­nif­i­cant reduc­tion. And, of course, with the Lis­bon agree­ment, the size of our forces left in Afghanistan in Decem­ber of 2014 would be a small frac­tion of what they are today.”

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

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