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News | Aug. 13, 2009

Gates: U.S. must strengthen ties with Pakistan

WASHINGTON (Aug. 13, 2009) — The United States must maintain relationships with Pakistan for the long term to build trust between the nations, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here Thursday.

A new public opinion poll in Pakistan says that only 9 percent of Pakistanis see the United States as a partner, while 64 percent see America as the enemy.

The poll is disturbing to defense leaders, but not surprising. “First of all, one of the reasons that the Pakistanis have concerns about us is that we walked away from them twice,” Gates said during a Pentagon news conference. The United States left Pakistan after the Soviets left Afghanistan, and later in the 1990s cut off military contacts with Pakistan in response to Pakistan’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“So, our military-to-military relations were significantly interrupted,” Gates said. “I think that the Pakistanis, with some legitimacy, question how long are we prepared to stay there?”

The Pakistani people wonder if the only reason the United States is working with the government is “because of the war in Afghanistan, or do we value Pakistan as a partner and an ally independent of the war in Afghanistan?” he said.

The latter is the case, Gates said, and the fact that Congress is considering bills to provide multi-year economic assistance to Pakistan, proves that.

“I think it's going to take us some time to rebuild confidence with the Pakistani people, that we are a long-term friend and ally of Pakistan,” he said.

The poll also shows that the Pakistani people have given strong support to the counterinsurgency battle going on in western Pakistan, Gates said. “There seems to be, more than I think any of us would have expected six months ago, broad political support for what the Pakistani military is doing in the west,” he said.

That change — plus the success of Pakistani forces — serves U.S. and Pakistani interests. “My hope is that over time, we will be able to demonstrate, to the Pakistanis, that we are a reliable ally that they can count on for the long term,” he said.