US general rules out unilateral action in Pakistan

By Ihtasham ul Haque

ISLAMABAD, Feb 9: The United States will not attack or invade Pakistan and the two countries would have to work together for a “very long time”, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said at a press conference on Saturday.

The admiral earlier met President Pervez Musharraf, Gen Tariq Majeed, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and chief of the Strategic Planning Division, Lt-Gen (retd) Khalid Kidwai.

He said he had held very constructive talks, particularly about intensifying the war on terror in the region.

“I am going back to Washington quite satisfied,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were in safe custody and would not fall into the hands of extremists.

He was asked about the reasons for doubting voices in the US while there was a complete consensus here, which was not disputed even by President Musharraf’s worst critics like Nawaz Sharif that Pakistan’s nuclear programme was in safe hands. He said he was very confident that Pakistani nuclear arsenals were in full protection and that the United States had no reservations about it.

However, he did comment on stories which had been quoting unnamed American sources that Pakistan’s nuclear assets were vulnerable. “Don’t ask me about them (western media reports). But I can tell you on my behalf and on behalf of the US that we are satisfied about it,” he said.

He said that border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan were “very tough” where Pakistani, Americans and forces of other countries were facing new threats. His country, he said, would continue assisting Pakistan to effectively fight terrorism.

Admiral Mullen said that both countries would have to work hard to build the partnership to improve the fight against terrorism.

Asked about the alleged presence of Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Pakistan, he said he did not know anything about it. “I have not seen that report”.

He said that the US would continue to provide increased military assistance to Pakistan despite some concern expressed by US Senate’s armed services committee. “There is a fairly reasonable process about the money being transferred to Pakistan”.

He said that the Bush administration was planning to increase the number of trainers and advisers in both Pakistan and Afghanistan because of an upsurge of terrorists in the region.

“We have developed person-to-person and military-to-military relationship between the two countries and this is very, very good for both of us,” he said.

Asked if Pakistan was meeting certain conditions to continue seeking military assistance, he said he was all for minimisation of these conditions.

He said half of the funds were reimbursed to Pakistan to help meet its requirements to continue fighting against terrorists in the border regions. “It will be important to invest in Pakistan to help cope with threats of militants,” he said, adding that US money was going to the “right people in Pakistan”, and he was not bothered about what was being said by some people in his country.

He said he did not see any significant shift in the United States’ policies towards Pakistan in future.

He was asked whether his country supported peace accord between Pakistani Taliban after its head Baitullah Mehsood’s unilateral announcement of ceasefire against Pakistani forces in North and South Waziristan. Without naming Mehsood, the US Admiral said that he had discussed the issue with Gen Kayani of using social and political means to achieve objectives in tribal areas. He said he did know how both countries could include Taliban for achieving peace in the region.

But he made it clear that “from the military stand point”, both Pakistan and the US needed to focus on military means to combat terrorism.