Defense Secretary Seeks To Build Trust; Pakistanis Reject Anti-Militant Offensive For Now The Pakistani military said Thursday that it won't launch any new offensives against Islamist militants for at least another six months. The comments came during a visit to Pakistan by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has pushed Pakistan to do more to combat militants.
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Gates' Trust-Building Task In Pakistan Hits A Bump

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Gates' Trust-Building Task In Pakistan Hits A Bump

Gates' Trust-Building Task In Pakistan Hits A Bump

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Now we're going to hear from two parts of the world where the U.S. is having a hard time getting what it wants. In a moment, the Middle East but first to Pakistan. Today, that country's army delivered a tough message to the Obama administration: no new military offensives against al-Qaida and the Taliban for at least six months. The Pakistani army says it does not want to be quote, "over-stretched." That announcement came as Defense Sectary Robert Gates went to Pakistan today to push the army to expand its military campaign.

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly is traveling with the Defense secretary.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Even before his flight to Islamabad took off this morning, Secretary Gates was telling reporters onboard about the message he had planned for Pakistan's generals, go after all the militant groups lurking within your borders or risk the stability of the entire country.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): What I hope to talk about with my interlocutors is this notion and the reality that you can't ignore one part of this cancer and pretend that they won't have some impact closer to home.

KELLY: I asked Gates, are Pakistanis open to that message?

Sec. GATES: Well, we'll see.

KELLY: And indeed within hours of our landing we did see. A Pakistani army spokesman challenged him, 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, Major General Athar Abbas said the situation is not so black and white. And he said the army here needs six months to a year to consolidate gains and regroup before it can launch any new operations. Secretary Gates seemed to anticipate this position. He told reporters essentially it's their country, they are in charge.

Sec. GATES: It's the Pakistanis that have their foot on the accelerator. Not us. 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.

KELLY: Secretary Gates does acknowledge the U.S. has a lot of work to do here to build up trust. To that end, he wrote an op-ed today for one of the country's major newspapers, titled, "Our Commitment to Pakistan." And he sat down later for back-to-back interviews with local TV.

(Soundbite of TV show)

Unidentified Woman: Good evening and welcome to Express's special edition of an interview with the secretary of Defense from the United States

KELLY: The tone was cordial, but the questions were tough and suspicious about U.S. motives in Pakistan. Gates said he'd take the concerns one by one.

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

KELLY: Gates was not allowed to escape the local media without one last question, one high in many people's minds.

Unidentified Woman: Where do you believe Osama Bin Laden is?

Sec. GATES: I have no idea. If I knew where he was, he wouldn't be there any longer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: Tomorrow, Secretary Gates continues his public diplomacy tour with an address to Pakistani military officers. Gates says he wants to forge quote, "an even closer," relationship with Pakistan. I just think it's useful, he says, to open a dialogue.

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Islamabad.

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