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Pakistan National Defense University

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, January 22, 2010

Thank you for that introduction.

It is a real honor to be here and to meet with you, the future leadership of Pakistan’s military. Considering the common challenges our nations face, and our growing friendship, I think this event could not come at a better time.

The main reason I’m here today is to have a conversation – to hear your thoughts and to answer any questions you may have about us – about our goals and future plans concerning this region. The strategic relationship between the United States and Pakistan is a broad one that includes a range of economic, political, and social issues. Today, in this setting, I’d like to focus on security, and in particular, our military relationship. I’ll start with some brief opening remarks, and then take questions.

Yesterday, I met with Pakistan’s top civilian and military leaders. We discussed many aspects of our growing relationship: from the current operations along the Afghan border to wider strategic issues and how we can enhance our partnership, especially our military-to-military ties. I stressed my respect and admiration for the sacrifices this nation has made in the struggle against violent extremism – and I also extended my sympathy for the losses throughout your nation: in your towns and cities, in your schools, in your homes, in your places of worship – and among your soldiers.

The central message I repeated in all of my meetings is that the United States is fully committed to a stable, long-term, enduring friendship with Pakistan – based on common interests and mutual respect that will continue to expand and deepen in future years.

Of course, I fully understand why some of you may be skeptical about the U.S. commitment to Pakistan – a subject of real concern, and one that I am all too familiar with. My history with Pakistan dates back many years. I recall my first trip here in 1986, when I met with Pakistan’s military leaders and traveled to the border to see firsthand the training of the Afghan resistance. I was in government in the early 1990s, when Russia left the region and the United States largely abandoned Afghanistan and cut off defense ties with Pakistan – a grave strategic mistake driven by some well-intentioned but short-sighted U.S. legislative and policy decisions.

But perhaps the greatest consequence of those choices was the severing of military-to-military relations. And that is largely the reason for a very real, and very understandable, trust deficit – one that has made it more difficult for us to work together to confront the common threat of extremism.

This unfortunate reality has tainted the perception of the United States in Pakistan. Further worsening the situation is an organized propaganda campaign by the very groups we seek to destroy – groups who kill and maim innocent civilians without remorse. So let me say, definitively, that:

  • The United States does not covet a single inch of Pakistani soil;
  • We seek no military bases; and
  • We have no desire to control Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

The U.S. is prepared to invest whatever time and energy it takes to forge and sustain a genuine, lasting partnership.

I know that rebuilding relationships with this generation of Pakistani officers – who have had little or no interactions with the American military – cannot be done in just a few months. Rather, it will be the work of years – requiring openness, transparency, and, above all, continuous engagement on both sides. The fact is that our militaries have a lot to learn from each other on many issues: whether operationally in the field; or learning about the complexities of our respective histories, cultures, and traditions; or with regard to institutional matters like staff college curriculums, promotion and personnel policies, or procurement. We are already making headway in these areas:

  • To meet the urgent need to support your military as it expanded operations, the United States created the billion-dollar Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund to rapidly provide material and training assistance to your troops on the front lines;
  • The cooperation between Pakistani troops and international forces in Afghanistan operating along the border has improved in the last year and has had a real operational impact;
  • In the last twelve months, we have expanded our joint training exercises; and
  • We have doubled funding to bring Pakistani officers to U.S. military training centers and schools to support your efforts to strengthen your officer corps.

In all of this, a guiding principle is to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and to do whatever we can to help you protect your nation.

As I told your leaders in my meetings, the United States also wants to develop a broader strategic dialogue with Pakistan on issues such as:

  • The link between Afghanistan’s stability and Pakistan’s, and the possible role of political solutions to the insurgency in Afghanistan;
  • Your relationship with India;
  • The threat of regional extremism; and
  • The challenge posed by anti-government militants in Pakistan.

On that last point: As you know, more U.S. forces are headed to Afghanistan to increase pressure on the Taliban and reverse a deteriorating security situation. There is concern that a greater U.S. presence in Afghanistan will lead to more attacks in Pakistan. It is important to remember that the Pakistani Taliban operates in collusion with both the Taliban in Afghanistan and with Al Qaeda, so it is impossible to separate these groups. If history is any indication, safe havens for either Taliban, on either side of the border, will in the long-run lead to more lethal and more brazen attacks in both nations – attacks of the kind that have already exacted a terrible civilian toll. Maintaining a distinction between some violent extremist groups and others is counterproductive: Only by pressuring all of these groups on both sides of the border will Afghanistan and Pakistan be able to rid themselves of this scourge – to destroy those who promote the use of terror here and abroad.

To counteract and defeat this dangerous enemy, Pakistan’s military has had to adapt and will have to do so even more in the years to come. As uniformed leaders, you will be responsible for preparing the military for the future – a great challenge with many of the same dilemmas that the U.S. military has faced over the last decade. Here, I believe our experience may offer some lessons.

Since September 11th, the United States. military has been confronted with new missions in Iraq and Afghanistan – where initially quick conventional victories have given way to long, complex, and grinding campaigns against violent, adaptive insurgencies. When these conflicts began, the U.S. military was, for the most part, a smaller version of the Cold War force organized, trained, and equipped to fight a conventional war with the Soviet Union – the consuming threat that had guided U.S. defense strategy for nearly a half century.

In light of the hard lessons of recent years, however, the U.S. military has reshaped and reformed itself to meet new threats. We have struggled to adapt our institutions and practices to the messy realities of counterinsurgency and irregular operations – where tactical victories can easily lead to strategic setbacks – where civilian casualties present unprecedented difficulties for war-planners.

I have characterized the central challenge for our Defense Department as one of finding the right balance – between training for conventional wars, and training for counterinsurgency and stability operations; between funding weapons programs that take decades to develop, and getting our troops the equipment they need for today’s wars. In doing all of this, we have had to set priorities and consider inescapable tradeoffs. As all of you look to the future and assess the most likely threats to Pakistan, you will have to grapple with some of the same issues. After all, fighting along the Afghan border and in the tribal areas has required dramatically different skill sets and equipment than preparing for a potential conventional conflict with another country’s army.

These kinds of changes are difficult for any large institution that has been doing things in a certain way for a long time. They are difficult in any era but even more so in a time of war, when your force is under great pressure and strain. The American military has learned these lessons at great cost in lives and treasure. As the future leaders of Pakistan’s military, you have a tremendous responsibility – to your fellow troops, and, most importantly, to all your countrymen to deal with similar dilemmas and challenges.

Let me offer a final thought. Yesterday, I visited the monument to the courageous citizens of Pakistan who have lost their lives in the defense of this country. I know that thousands of Pakistani troops have made the ultimate sacrifice fighting violent extremists in recent years – a number that speaks to their bravery as well as to the magnitude of the security challenges you face. We have enemies in common along the border – but we also have many other interests in common, from economic development to regional and global issues. And although we will undoubtedly encounter difficulties and setbacks in the years ahead, let there be no doubt that the United States is committed to Pakistan’s future.

In all of this, I believe that military-to-military ties between the United States and Pakistan can provide a foundation upon which we can strengthen all of the elements of our relationship – upon which we can renew, reinforce, and strengthen the bonds of trust between our people and our nations.

With that, I’ll ask the press to leave so that we can have a candid conversation.

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