Pakistan vitally important: US
* Pentagon confident of finding more common grounds to forge close cooperative ties
WASHINGTON: The Pentagon expressed the confidence that 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.
US Central Command head Gen James Mattis, who recently called on Islamabad’s Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman, said the US relationship with Pakistan had 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 one, and it’s been prone to recriminations on both sides. But the bottom line was that this was a critical relationship,” Mattis told US lawmakers during a testimony this week.
This week US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also underlined the importance of US ties with Pakistan, saying that Washington wanted to see the bilateral relationship improve. The US administration was seeking congressional approval for over $2 billion in economic and security assistance for Pakistan in the overall budget for the new fiscal year beginning October 1.
In a series of hearings, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pentagon leaders had been stressing to the Congress the importance of US-Pak 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 recognised Pakistan’s military success against the Taliban in Swat valley a couple of years ago. He told lawmakers that the Pakistani military continued its fight against Taliban at great cost. “And today, as you know, the Pakistan Army had thrown the Taliban back up into the mountains. They continue to take casualties in this fight,” Mattis said. “We did have a problematic at times relationship with Pakistan but that did not prevent us from working and there was a lot of common ground that we use – that we operate off, together against this enemy,” Gen Mattis added.
Despite some complications in bilateral relations, Pakistan had just come out in support of reconciliation in Afghanistan, the general said.
“The prime minister made the public statement a little over a week ago, and I think that we were on track to start recovering some of the ground lost under some of these incidents that have occurred,” he added.
The US general, who plans to visit Pakistan shortly, also drew the lawmakers’ attention to sacrifices Pakistan had offered in the fight against terrorists.
“The Pakistan military had taken a lot of casualties. They have probably lost more people in this war than NATO combined had 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 2001 to southern Afghanistan, absent Pakistan’s support. I would not have – I needed their support. So it had not been perfect by a long sight and, certainly, we had to overcome some of the recriminations from both sides that have characterised the relationship.”
Mattis also responded to a question on Osama bin Laden, clearly stating that nobody in position of authority knew that the slain al Qaeda chief was living there. “I have looked at the evidence. I do not believe anyone in authority was aware that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad.” app