By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
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 al-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.”