WASHINGTON (April 8, 2009) – Building trust between the United States and Pakistan tops the agenda as the two countries and Afghanistan move forward, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said following meetings in Pakistan’s capital city Wednesday.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad. The three spoke at a news conference following their meeting.
“This commitment is a long-term commitment that I hope will generate a surplus of trust, as that is absolutely vital,” Mullen said. U.S. and Pakistani interests overlap significantly, and American commitment to finding solutions to mutual problems will continue, he said.
“The purpose of these engagements is to understand each other’s expectations and to listen to the people and government of Pakistan,” the admiral said. “This is about the people of Pakistan and the people of the United States and we will continue these constructive engagements.”
Qureshi characterized the talks as frank and candid, focusing on the way forward.
“As you know the new strategy has been announced,” Qureshi said. “The concepts have been put in front of you. Now we reach the stage of implementation and we had discussions in that regard.”
Holbrook pointed out that Pakistan and the United States face a common strategic threat, common enemy, common challenge, and a common task.
“We have had a long and complicated history between the two countries. We cannot put the past behind, for we must learn from it and move forward,” Holbrook said.
The leaders agreed to hold trilateral meetings between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States in Washington beginning May 6, the foreign minister announced.
The men discussed U.S. President Barack Obama’s expression of solidarity with the Pakistani people, U.S. support for democracy in the nation, the 10-fold increase in economic assistance to Pakistan, and U.S. offers to help train Pakistani security forces in counterinsurgency tactics.
But there are certain red flags in the relationship, and Qureshi waved them.
Qureshi said the U.S. leaders “have announced it very categorically and clearly that they respect Pakistan’s point of view” that no foreign boots would be tolerated on the nation’s soil.
Drones are another red flag issue. “Let me be very frank: there is a gap between us and them and I want to bridge that gap,” Qureshi said.
“The terms of engagement are very clear as far as Pakistan and I am concerned,” he said. “We will engage with mutual trust and mutual respect in view and that is the bottom line.”
The foreign minister said his primary concern is the violent extremism that threatens Pakistan.
“My people, my cities, my country is under threat, and we have to get our act together to face the menace, and we will,” he said. “We are grateful for help and we are grateful to the friends of Pakistan who are helping Pakistan.”