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Outgoing senior military representative reflects on U.S.-Pakistan defense relationship

By Marine 1st Lt. Karen Anne Holliday, U.S. Central Command

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March 10, 2016 — MACDILL AFB, Fla. (March 10, 2016) — Situated at the crossroads of Central and South Asia with a population of more than 200 million people, Pakistan is the most populous country in the CENTCOM area of responsibility and one of few nuclear powers in the region. According to the U.S. State Department, the United States and Pakistan have maintained diplomatic relations since Pakistan’s founding in 1947, but it was the events of 9/11 that led the two nations to conduct closer coordination on security and stability matters in the region. That cooperation continues today with U.S security assistance to Pakistani security forces focused on strengthening Pakistan’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency capabilities while also promoting a closer bilateral security relationship.

The team charged with overseeing U.S. security assistance to Pakistan is the U.S. Office of the Defense Representative-Pakistan (ODR-P), a U.S. Central Command component and part of the U.S. Embassy team in Islamabad. For nearly two years, Air Force Lt. Gen. Anthony Rock led this team as ODR-P chief and the senior U.S. defense representative to Pakistan. He deployed to Pakistan in July 2014 and recently relinquished his position as Chief, ODR-P to Air Force Maj. Gen. Rick Mattson, CENTCOM’s former Director, CCJ7 Exercises and Training. Rock visited U.S. Central Command March 10 post-deployment to update the staff here about ODR-P’s accomplishments in Pakistan and provide his perspective about this important regional security relationship.

In an interview, Rock said the U.S. relationship with Pakistan has grown substantially through the program initiated by ODR-P. Along with the U.S. Embassy country team, Rock and his staff promoted and enhanced U.S. counterterrorism and regional security efforts by assisting and enhancing Pakistan’s military counterinsurgency efforts. The U.S. State Department estimates that Pakistan has captured more than 600 Al-Qaeda members and their allies since 2001, while also fighting the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a terrorist group with close ties to Al-Qaeda and a stated aim of overthrowing Pakistan’s government to establish an Islamic caliphate.

Additionally, ODR-P’s efforts to enhance interpersonal relationships with key members of Pakistan’s military helped to strengthen and perpetuate a resilient and mutually beneficial defense partnership.

“If you look at the history of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan in 68 years of Pakistan as a nation, you’ve seen a wide variety of swings in our relationship,” Rock said.

Ultimately, however, the relationship has been beneficial for both nations, he said. Pakistan has provided significant support to U.S. efforts focused on promoting security and stability in Afghanistan, while U.S. security assistance to Pakistan has enabled that nation in its battle against militant threats there. According to the U.S. State Department, Pakistan is the largest partner for U.S. International Military Education and Training funding in the world – with the U.S. providing training to more than 2,300 Pakistan military members since 2009. Other examples of security assistance include military staff exchanges and joint training exercises.

Rock said the tangible result of these efforts and the relationships that have been established is the exponential growth of the Pakistani military’s ability to effectively function at an operational level, with the notable initiation 24 months ago of “Operation Zarb-E-Azb” (Pronounced: Zarb-ē-ahzb).
“This is an on-going operation to go after the militants that threaten their government, that project power outside their borders, and project violence, not just into Afghanistan but in some cases into India, within the region, and on a global scale,” he said. “Many of the militants have been chased out of North Waziristan and into Afghanistan...which has enabled the residual coalition force and Afghan National Security Forces to pursue some threats that they couldn’t reach before.”

Rock explained that Pakistan faces a continuing challenge to eradicate the militants and extremists that create instability, insecurity and initiate attacks on society within their own borders.

“These issues project violence and power either through facilitation or operational direction to other units or other elements of their organizations outside of the borders of Pakistan into neighboring countries,” Rock said. “What I can say is that Pakistan has very publicly stated its migration or evolution in policy, especially getting after the internal militancy and the extremism problem within Pakistan.”

Rock said that the relationships that he and his team built during their time in Pakistan will endure long after their redeployments.

“The foundation of success is in the personal contact and interaction cultured in these environments,” Rock said. “The ability now for our individuals and our societies to be connected and to remain connected through social media, electronic email and social networking opportunities is a powerful thing. As those [Pakistani] senior officers move forward, I’ll have the ability to stay connected with them.”

When asked about his team’s most notable achievement over the past 20 months, he said that as he looks back “all of the things that the ODR-P team did to enable Pakistani success are probably the most satisfying pieces operationally. Strategically, the ability to continue to propel the relationship forward I think is even more important.”