U.S. Works to Tighten Military Ties with Pakistan
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Here's a question for you. What does Pakistan's military have in common with the game of cricket? Well, they both have intricate traditions and rules. They're both difficult for outsiders to follow. And according to some observers, the army and the popular sport may be the only two things still holding Pakistan together.
Pakistan has elected a new parliament, but it's not clear what they'll do about or to Pervez Musharraf, the president who seized power in a coup. That political uncertainty may be one reason U.S. military leaders are spending a lot of time visiting Pakistan.
NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM: Over the past year, events in Pakistan have unfolded at almost lightning speed. The country's Supreme Court was purged. A state of emergency was declared. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and Pakistan moved from a military regime to a civilian government.
Each event brought different faces into Pakistan's civic, political and military circles. Frederick Barton with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the U.S. has been running to keep up with the new dynamics and new players.
Mr. FREDERICK BARTON (Center for Strategic and International Studies): I think that that's been universally accepted by almost every part of the U.S. government, that we are woefully uninformed and under informed and we'd better get to know more people faster. And we're going to do it every way possible.
NORTHAM: Barton says that's particularly true when it comes to Pakistan's military, especially since President Musharraf stepped down as army chief of staff and handed power to General Ashfaq Kayani.
Relations with Pakistan's military are critical to U.S. national security, in part because of a resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaida along Pakistan's western border, and because the military is a dominant force in Pakistan. It controls everything from foreign policy to major industries.
Kurt Campbell, the CEO of the Center for a New American Security, says it's no surprise that U.S. military officials are trying to cultivate new relationships with their Pakistani counterparts. Campbell says there are several reasons.
Mr. KURT CAMPBELL (CEO, Center for a New American Security): One is to develop a better understanding and intelligence, if you will, about this next generation of military leaders that are coming up behind Musharraf. Second is to get a sense of whether they're restive or not. And third is to build relationships with the military that will hopefully translate into actual progress in fighting against al-Qaida.
NORTHAM: Campbell says senior U.S. military figures are working hard to cement relations with the Pakistani military. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and CentCom Chief Admiral William Fallon have made several visits over the past few months. Campbell says Fallon, who just announced his resignation, had become a critical point person in U.S./Pakistan military relations.
Mr. CAMPBELL: The truth is that he, perhaps more than any other American official, really was working the case of trying to understand what was happening in Pakistan. And he had argued powerfully within the U.S. government, that we had to step up our support to the Pakistani military in terms of their operations in these lawless territories.
NORTHAM: Professor Anatol Lieven with the Department of War Studies at King's College London says the U.S. has to move carefully in its dealings with Pakistan's military, persuading the army to stay out of Pakistan's politics while at the same time pushing the military to go after the Taliban and al-Qaida. Lieven says it's a sensitive issue.
Professor ANATOL LIEVEN (Department of War Studies, King's College London): There is this awareness that the Pakistan military have, after all, lost twice as many soldiers fighting the insurgents and terrorists as all the Western forces in Afghanistan put together.
There's also an awareness that the Pakistani military has to be very careful of seeming to be just acting on America's orders, because that's very unpopular in its own rank and file.
NORTHAM: U.S. and other military officials say they're frustrated by a lack of military and intelligence cooperation from the Pakistanis. Professor Lieven says that may change if suicide bombings and other attacks - particularly against military installations - increase in Pakistan.
Prof. LIEVEN: As Pakistan does itself come under more and more attack from the Taliban-linked insurgents and terrorists, I think there is at least a chance that you will see much better cooperation in the future.
NORTHAM: Western military officials say the U.S. has already quietly increased the number of counterterrorism trainers on the ground in Pakistan. And there have been several air strikes recently on suspected al-Qaida hideouts, reportedly from American drones.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.