US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said the United States and Pakistan share an interest in defeating terrorists and that Washington would pursue defense cooperation with Islamabad on that common basis despite challenges in the bilateral ties.
Speaking at a Washington think tank, Panetta noted that in Afghanistan and Pakistan, prolonged military and intelligence operations have significantly weakened al Qaeda but saw the need to maintain pressure on the group.
That means degrading the terrorists’ senior leadership, dismantling their organisational capabilities, remaining vigilant to ensure the threat does not reconstitute, and working to build the capacity of US partners, including Pakistan, to confront these shared threats, he added.
“Despite challenges in the bilateral relationship between the United States and Pakistan”, Panetta said, “one area in which our national interests continue to align is defeating the terrorists on Pakistan soil that threaten both of us”.
Panetta pledged continued US engagement with Pakistan and a sustained commitment to Afghanistan in the years ahead. He acknowledged the fact that al Qaeda linked militants eye northeastern Afghan areas of Kunar and Nooristan as a viable haven.
He also claimed that in many ways success in Afghanistan is linked to Pakistan eliminating militant hideouts on its side of the Afghan border. The Afghans, he said, will be in the lead throughout the country for security in mid 2013. “Afghans will ultimately full responsibility for security by the end of 2014.
After 2014, the United States has made clear through a strategic partnership agreement, that we will maintain an enduring presence, and a long-term commitment to Afghan security. And NATO made a similar commitment to a post 2014 Afghanistan at the Chicago summit last May.
A relentless, and effective counterterrorism effort, conducted by our Special Operations Forces this year, made clear that we will not allow them to regain that sanctuary”. The defence secretary said the US must prevent the emergence of new safe havens for al Qaeda elsewhere in the world that could be used to attack the United States, or its interests.