By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 21, 2010 - The most pressing threat to Pakistan and India -- and the region, as well as the United States -- is violent extremism, not each other, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today, reiterating the message he delivered in his last stop in India. "This was a theme that I basically sounded while I was in India: that Afghanistan, Pakistan and India all share a common enemy, as do we in the United States," Gates said during interviews with Pakistan's Express TV cable station and the state-owned Pakistan TV at U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson's official residence.
Gates cited a terror syndicate that threatens the region, noting that the various organizations all operate under the same umbrella. "You can't say one is good and one is not good," he said. "They are all insidious, and safe havens for all of them need to be eliminated."
The secretary emphasized the need for Pakistan and India to work cooperatively, and with the United States and coalition, to face this threat, rather than pointing fingers at each other.
He worked to allay concerns about India's activities in Afghanistan, emphasizing that Indian officials assured him during his visit to New Delhi that they are limited to economic development programs.
"[Indian] Prime Minister [Manmohan] Singh was very explicit in saying that either in Afghanistan or more generally, that Pakistan has nothing to fear from India," he said.
Gates congratulated the Pakistanis today on the success of the operations they have conducted in confronting violent extremists.
Gates declined to discuss drone activities directly, but offered, "I will say that these unmanned aerial vehicles have been extremely useful to us, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan."
The United States is working to provide the Pakistanis their own intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, he said, and considering providing tactical UAVs – 12 unarmed RQ-7 Shadows funded through the Pakistan counterinsurgency fund.
These capabilities would help the Pakistani military better monitor activities along the country's porous border with Afghanistan, he said.
Asked about the July 2011 timeline to begin troop withdrawals in Afghanistan under President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan strategy, Gates emphasized that it marks only the beginning of a process of drawing down. "There is no deadline," he said, and the drawdown pace is to be determined by conditions on the ground.
Gates said he's confident in the new strategy, and believes that with Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal overseeing its implementation and 30,000 additional U.S. troops on the ground, "we have the right leader and the right troops soon to be in place to be successful in this conflict."
Gates acknowledged during the interviews the United States' past mistake in abandoning Pakistan, and promised not to repeat it. "We are determined to be a reliable and long-term ally," he said.
"We are focused on the way ahead."
The secretary acknowledged "conspiracy theories" within Pakistan and elsewhere about U.S. intentions, and countered them head-on.
"We have no intention or desire to take over Pakistan's nuclear weapons," he said. "We have no desire to occupy any part of Pakistan or split up any part of Pakistan. We have no intent to split the Islamic world.
"And I can keep going, because we are aware of these conspiracy theories as much as anyone," he continued. "And they are all nonsense."
Gates expressed admiration for the way Pakistan's military has stepped up to face extremism, and recognized the sacrifices it has taken in the process.
"We are prepared to provide whatever help they want to make them more effective," he said.
Gates met today with Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar, Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Gen. Tariq Majid, chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and Intelligence Chief Gen. Ahmad Shujaa Pasha.
He attended a dinner hosted by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, where he also met with Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
While in Islamabad, Gates laid a floral wreath at the Pakistan army's Martyrs Monument honoring those lost for Pakistan's security.
Gates characterized today's sessions as highly productive, touching on a wide range of important issues, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.