By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
July 9, 2009 - A long-term partnership with Pakistan is key to promoting stability in Afghanistan and the region, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday. "I've been to Pakistan 11 or 12 times over the last year, year and a half," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told a National Press Club audience. "And I think it represents the importance of both the engagement of the Pakistan military ... and the importance of the country, and in fact, the importance of the region, to try to create stability."
That importance is reflected in the new U.S. Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, which includes building Pakistan's capability to fight extremists, providing Pakistan more and broader U.S. economic assistance and strengthening Pakistan's democratic government.
Defeating al-Qaida is a top priority in the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, Mullen said, noting that the terror group's leadership lives in western Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas. That makes it critical to help build capacity within the Pakistani military, the chairman told the group. "We've given significant support there, what they've asked for, in many cases, as they adapt," he said.
Mullen recognized the Pakistani military's dual focuses: on the Kashmir area in the east, and more recently, also on the "significant extremist threat" within the country. The Pakistani government now is taking action against this internal threat, he said, pointing to the recent offensive against Taliban militants in the Swat Valley as a key example.
"A year ago, not many people would have said that the Pakistani military could have pulled that off, and yet they've made an awful lot of progress," he said.
Mullen expressed hope that increased cooperation, with Pakistan's as well as Afghanistan's security forces, will put "growing and continued pressure" on the extremist threat.
One roadblock he said he and others are working to overcome is wariness about U.S. staying power in the region.
"When I travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the question that comes up, either directly or indirectly, is 'Are you staying this time or are you leaving?'" he said, noting that the United States left Afghanistan in 1989 and sanctioned Pakistan during the 1990s and early 2000s. "And that's why I think it's so important to engage at every level, and that's what's going on right now," he said.
"We have a ways to go in terms of those relationships," Mullen told the group. "I think we need to stay engaged. ... We're moving in the right direction."