Gates' Trust-Building Task In Pakistan Hits A Bump

Pakistan's Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani meets with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. i i

Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, meets Thursday with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The Pakistani army says it can't launch any new offensives against militants for six months to a year to give the military time to stabilize existing gains. AP/Inter Services Public Relations department hide caption

itoggle caption AP/Inter Services Public Relations department
Pakistan's Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani meets with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, meets Thursday with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The Pakistani army says it can't launch any new offensives against militants for six months to a year to give the military time to stabilize existing gains.

AP/Inter Services Public Relations department

Pakistan's army delivered a tough message Thursday to the Obama administration: No new military offensives against al-Qaida and the Taliban for at least six months.

The announcement came as Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a visit to Islamabad for talks aimed at cementing the relationship and pushing Pakistan to expand its military campaign.

But in its announcement, the Pakistani army said that it didn't want to be "overstretched."

Prior to his arrival in Pakistan, Gates told reporters traveling with him the message he would deliver to Pakistan's generals: Go after all the militant groups lurking within your borders, or risk the stability of the entire country.

U.S. officials have been concerned about what they perceive as Pakistan's reluctance to take on extremist groups.

"What I hope to talk about ... is this notion and the reality that you can't ignore one part of this cancer and pretend that it won't have some impact closer to home," Gates said.

'Not So Black And White'

But just hours after Gates arrived, a Pakistani army spokesman challenged him, and in particular the assertion that al-Qaida, the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban and other extremist groups are all linked.

Speaking to reporters at the headquarters of Pakistan's army, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the situation is "not so black and white." He said the Pakistani army needs six months to a year to consolidate gains and regroup before it can launch any new operations.

Gates later told reporters essentially that it was the Pakistanis' country and they were in charge.

"It's the Pakistanis that have their foot on the accelerator. Not us," Gates said. "And so we have to do this in a way that is comfortable for them, and at a pace that they can accommodate and is tolerable for them."

A Trust Deficit

Gates acknowledged that the U.S. has much work to do in Pakistan to build trust.

To that end, he wrote an op-ed for one of the country's major newspapers, titled, "Our Commitment to Pakistan." He also sat down for back-to-back interviews with local television outlets.

The tone was cordial, but the questions were tough and suspicious about U.S. motives in Pakistan. Gates said he would answer the concerns one by one.

"We have no intention or desire to take over any of Pakistan's nuclear weapons," Gates 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," he added, "because we're aware of these conspiracy theories as much as anyone — and they're all nonsense."

Gates also was asked where he believed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was hiding.

"I have no idea," he replied to laughter. "If I knew where he was, he wouldn't be there any longer!"

Gates continues his public diplomacy tour Friday with an address to Pakistani military officers. He says he wants to forge an "even closer" relationship with Pakistan.

"I just think it's useful to open a dialogue," he said.

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