Two senior U.S. military officials say the U.S.-led war on terror is facing challenges in part because Pakistan’s young military officers don’t have the same relationship with their U.S. counterparts that their predecessors had.
In a recent interview with The Washington Times, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a top priority for the Pentagon is healing the longtime rift between the two militaries, which he said has deprived both nations of the trust needed to combat extremism.
“We don’t know each other well enough, and us participating with them in their country is equally as important as them participating with us in our country,” he said.
Army Maj. Gen. John M. Custer agreed. The commander of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., he said U.S. forces are “dealing with guys who don’t have any exposure to us.”
“The older military leaders love us, they understand American culture, and they know we are not the enemy, but they are aging out of the force,” he said.
Tensions with Pakistan’s army go back long before the emergence of the Taliban and al Qaeda, both officers said.
“There’s not a Pakistani junior officer that doesn’t know who former Senator Pressler is, and there’s not a junior officer in the U.S. military that knows who Senator Pressler is,” Adm. Mullen said.
He was referring to 1985 legislationsponsored by former Sen. Larry Pressler, South Dakota Republican, which banned most economic and military aid to Pakistan unless the U.S. president certified, on an annual basis, that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device. The so-called “Pressler Amendment” also required U.S. aid to be significantly reduced if Pakistan tried to attain nuclear weapons.
The measure was overriden by other legislation in 1995, but still shadows U.S.-Pakistan ties.
In October 1990, then-President George H.W. Bush could not make the certification when it became apparent that Pakistan was pursuing nuclear weapons. As a result, the United States withheld $1.2 billion worth of military equipment already purchased by Pakistan. Relations plummeted as the administration considered having Pakistan designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. More sanctions were imposed when U.S. officials asserted that Pakistan was receiving missile technology from China.
U.S. and Pakistani military exchanges virtually came to a halt during the 1990s, depriving those who are now midlevel officers in Pakistan’s military of familiarity with the United States.
Many of these officers still harbor deep resentment toward the United States. Younger military personnel are influenced by their superiors and may be reluctant to cooperate with the U.S. military
Disagreement with the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the perception that U.S. policy in South Asia tilts in favor of India have exacerbated the problems. The U.S.-led war against extremists in Afghanistan is also controversial because many younger Pakistani officers appear to sympathize with Islamic fundamentalists.
The general consensus among many Pakistani citizens is that the U.S. abandoned Pakistan when “we were no longer useful after the Cold War,” said a senior Pakistani official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, owing to the sensitivity of the subject.
“The distrust between the two allies goes back to the Pressler Amendment,” the Pakistani official added. “The U.S. abandoned Pakistan, and that mutual distrust didn’t allow and still in many ways does not allow both parties to find a common strategy to defeat terrorism.”
Despite his legislation’s impact on U.S.-Pakistan relations, Mr. Pressler told The Times that the Clinton administration’s decision to stop implementing the amendment was “one of the great foreign-policy mistakes in recent history.”
Mr. Pressler, who retired in 1997 and has served on the boards of several U.S., British and Indian companies, said the measure delayed progress on Pakistan’s nuclear program for a decade. Pakistan exploded a nuclear device in 1998 after India carried out nuclear tests.
Adm. Mullen said that even during the most crisis-ridden years, the United States and Pakistan collaborated in international peacekeeping operations in Somalia. But he said he was stunned earlier this year when he was invited to speak to a group of about 30 Pakistani war-college students at the American Embassy in Islamabad. The majority of the questions were about the Pressler Amendment, which was passed before most of the students were born.
The legislation has affected every aspect of the “mil-to-mil relationship,” he said. “We have a tendency to move on as Americans, and we can’t in this regard.”
According to the Pentagon, from 1980 to 1989, more than 1,300 Pakistani military men attended U.S. war-staff colleges and technical and professional schools in the United States.
The current chief of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and developed close relationships with top U.S. military leaders.
While Gen. Kiyani was head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), comparable to the U.S.’s CIA, he and Gen. Custer, who was then at the Intelligence Directorate at the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), worked closely together.
Gen. Custer said a U.S. lack of understanding of the political situation in Pakistan has led to a very “myopic view” of the region and a distancing of the two allies.
During the ‘90s, the number of Pakistani students in the United States plummeted to only about 300, Adm. Mullen said. The figure over the past eight years is 98. Considering the crisis in Afghanistan and growing extremism plaguing both Afghanistan and Pakistan, “we need to do more than that,” he said.
Senior Pakistani officials have been reluctant to accept U.S. counterterrorism training or to participate in combined missions to fight terrorism. U.S. aid has been limited to military equipment, helicopter maintenance and financial support.
In October, however, Pakistan agreed to accept 25 American master military trainers to advise selected members of the Frontier Corps, who will then train other Pakistanis fighting extremists along the border with Afghanistan.
While the number of trainers isn’t large, Adm. Mullen said, the agreement is a significant step in rebuilding relations.
“The offer is still on the table to provide more U.S. military support,” he said.
The U.S. offer comes as a new democratic government in Pakistan struggles to fight its own war on terrorism and deal with growing economic fragility.
“Pakistan is not going to be used as a safe haven for anything or anyone,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, told The Times. “We are also working closely with our U.S. counterparts, but this is Pakistan’s war against terror as well.”
Mr. Haqqani said that rebuilding the relationship will take time.
“The U.S. has to make it very clear that the U.S. role against terror is a supportive role,” he said.”Everybody is more willing to fight when it is their war, than to fight somebody else’s war.”