APP – March 11, 2011
WASHINGTON, March 11 (APP): The Pentagon has expressed confidence that the United States and Pakistan would be able to find more common ground to forge close cooperative ties, as a top general acknowledged the importance of America’s relationship with the key South Asian country.
Gen James Mattis, the head of the Central Command, who recently called on Islamabad’s ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman, said the U.S. relationship with Pakistan has been vital to American security efforts in Afghanistan, despite some differences between the two countries.
“It is a crucial relationship but it’s been a challenging relationship, and it’s been prone to recriminations on both sides. But the bottom line is that this is a critical relationship,” Mattis told U.S. lawmakers during a testimony this week.
The Centcom Chief spoke as the Parliament in Islamabad neared completion of a review to provide guidelines for future relationship with the United States following deaths of two dozen Pakistani soldiers in Nov 26, 2011 NATO air strikes on Pakistani checkposts from across the Afghan border, an incident which led to closure of NATO supply routes and prompted a Parliamentary review.
This week State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland also underlined the importance of U.S. ties with Pakistan this week, saying Washington wants to see the bilateral relationship improve.
The U.S. Administration is seeking Congressional approval for over two billion dollars in economic and security assistance for Pakistan in the overall budget for the new fiscal year beginning Octobe 1,r, 2012. In a series of hearings, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pentagon leaders have been stressing to Congress the importance of US=Pakistan ties as well as the critical significance of Pakistan’s cooperation to American security efforts in Afghanistan.
In his appearance on the Capitol Hill, Gen Mattis recognized Pakistan’s military success against the Taliban in Swat valley a couple of years ago. He told skeptical lawmakers that Pakistani military continues its fight against Taliban militants at great cost.
“No, Congressman, it’s not,” he replied when asked by a question by Democratic Representative Silverstre Reyes whether failure on Pakistani side to completely eliminate Taliban sanctuaries would be a showstopper for the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.
“If I were sitting here two and a half years ago, I would probably be asked, with the enemy, the Taliban moving against Islamabad, only 60 miles away in Swat Valley — this is — these havens have just become a penalty to both countries. That’s recognized in both countries.
“And today, as you know, the Pakistan army has thrown the Taliban back up into the mountains. They continue to fight. They fought this week. They continue to take casualties in this fight. And the havens that are there in some of those areas exist because the Pakistan army is stretched.
“Now, we do have a problematic at times relationship with Pakistan. That does not prevent us from working it. And there’s a lot of common ground that we use — that we operate off of together against this enemy. We don’t have 100 percent common ground about it, but it is not a showstopper.” Despite some complications in bilateral relations, Pakistan has just come out in support of reconciliation in Afghanistan, the general said.
“That’s a first, by the way.The prime minister made the public statement here a little over a week ago, and I think that we’re on track to start recovering some of the ground lost under some of these incidents that have occurred.”
The U.S. general, who plans to visit Pakistan shortly, also drew the lawmakers’ attention to sacrifices Pakistan has offered in the fight against terrorists.
“The Pakistan military has taken a lot of casualties. They’ve probably lost more people in this war than NATO combined has lost. So my point would be that we continue to search for the common ground.
We fight, in many cases, in a collaborative way. I could not have gone in in 2001 to southern Afghanistan absent Pakistan’s support. I would not have — I needed their support. So it has not been perfect by a long sight and, certainly, we have got to overcome some of the recriminations from both sides that have characterized the relationship. I think in the long term the shared — the shared requirements we both have to address this situation will find us more common ground that we can work from.”
Mattis also responded to a question on Osama bin Laden having been able to hide in Pakistani city of Abbottabad, clearly stating that nobody in position of authority knew that the slain al-Qaeda chief was hiding there.
“I have looked at the evidence. I do not believe anyone in authority was aware that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad.”