Amid the ongoing uptick in terrorist violence perpetrated by the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the top US military commander has said that the United States is concerned at the threat posed by the TTP to Pakistan’s security.
“We value our bilateral relationship and welcome opportunities to expand our cooperation in areas of mutual interest, such as counterterrorism and border security,” Commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), General Michael E Kurilla, said while responding to a question about the possibility of the US extending support to Pakistan in dealing with the terror threat.
“We are concerned by the threats posed by Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan to Pakistani security and stability. During my visit to the GHQ, we discussed opportunities to address this threat,” General Kurilla – who visited Islamabad this week – told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview on Saturday.
The CENTCOM chief’s visit came at a time when border tensions have been escalating between Pakistan and Afghanistan following deadly skirmishes on the Chaman-Spin Boldak border. General Kurilla also dwelt on the situation in Afghanistan, underlining the fact that Pakistan had much to gain from a “peaceful and stable Afghanistan.”
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“We regularly communicate with Pakistani leadership and discuss Afghanistan in detail. During this trip, I spoke with General Asim about additional cooperation on counter-terrorism operations and border security. These are, of course, matters of great importance to both of us,” he further said.
“I also visited the headquarters of XI Corps in Peshawar. XI Corps is the command responsible for security along roughly half the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Alongside XI Corps leaders, I visited the Khyber Pass where we observed defensive belts and observation posts.”
About the Afghan Taliban, he said: “We will continue to judge them by their actions, not their words.”
“The US and Pakistan have a shared interest in combatting threats to regional security. The US-Pakistan relationship must stand on its own, through its own bilateral merits and its potential to improve stability across the region,” according to the CENTCOM chief.
During his visit, General Kurilla held meetings with the top military leadership, including Chief of Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Sahir Shamshad Mirza and visited Peshawar Corps as well as travelled to the Khyber Pass. This was his first face-to-face meeting with the new Pakistan military leadership after the change of command last month.
The top American general said General Asim Munir has a “clear vision” for his forces and the security of Pakistan. “Just two weeks into command of the Pakistani Army, General Munir has a clear vision for his forces and the security of Pakistan,” he said.
The CENTCOM chief had already held a video conference with General Munir. The two generals established a relationship when General Kurilla was CENTCOM chief of staff while General Munir was heading the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
“General Munir and I have a previously established relationship when I was the CENTCOM Chief of Staff and he served as director general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. It is important that we are starting from a strong foundation of trust and respect,” he said when asked how he found the new army chief.
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The top American general was impressed with the briefing he was given during his visit to the General Headquarters. “During my visit, my team and I received an excellent briefing from General Munir and his staff on their capabilities and ongoing operations. We discussed opportunities for increased military cooperation,” he said.
About the future of US-Pakistan relationship, the CENTCOM chief said the US values “our long-standing cooperation with Pakistan and has always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to US interests and the region.”
“That remains unchanged. The US-Pakistan military relationship will remain strong under General Munir’s leadership,” he added.
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