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'Kayani has purged rogue elements from ISI'

Last updated on: May 22, 2009 11:27 IST

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who just couldn't stop praising Pakistani Army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani , told Congress Thursday that Kayani has purged the so-called 'rogue' elements from the ISI who are in cahoots with the Taliban.

Mullen, who was appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss the AfPak strategy also said that Kayani has also been shifting some Pakistani troops from its eastern border with India to address the internal existential threat from extremists and terrorists on the western border on the urging of the US, but asserted that ultimately the decision is Pakistan's and Pakistan alone as to what it perceives is its greater threat.

Asked by Senator Russ Feingold as to how he would recommend the US alter its military to military relations with Pakistan in the event that the ISI continues its cooperation with the Taliban -- a concern that he himself had acknowledged in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week -- and if he would concur with the State Department that is preparing contingency plans if such cooperation is continuing six months hence, Mullen said, "I haven't taken myself out to a specific target date with respect to that."

He said, "I've had lengthy discussions with Pakistani civilian and military leadership –and the military leadership is critical here -- and expressed this concern, and my belief has been for some time that I believe the ISI has to change its strategic approach in order for progress to be made on the long-term."

Mullen said, "What General Kayani has done and the civilian leadership has done is change out the leadership of that organization -- almost the entire leadership, not that (General Ahmed Shuja) Pasha (the current Director-General of the ISI), but the principal director, are all people that General Kayani trusts. We've had this discussion. This has happened over the last six months."

"So, I think this is going to take some time. The ISI is very supportive in ways and constructive in ways that we concur in," he said, but acknowledged, "There are still challenges about connections with militants and their support of those militants as well."

Mullen reiterated that "I've constantly addressed those concerns, will continue to do that, (But) I think part of that answer is answering the question about how Pakistan sees its future. Pakistan created the ISI and its strategic approach has been foment toward India, foment toward Afghanistan and in their insecurity in that regard, the ISI has a mission."

What he failed to mention was that less than five years ago, Kayani himself was Director-General of the ISI and was part of Pakistan's strategic depth modus operandi vis-à-vis where the ISI was supporting the Taliban and the militants in Afghanistan.

Asked earlier by the ranking Republican on the Committee Senator Richard Lugar, if there had been any discussion of Cooperative Threat Reduction with Pakistan like the US has with Russia and some other countries, "so that we both understand the threats that we both face and likewise we have a degree of trust and cooperation that will be important to them as well as ourselves," Mullen said, "I work on that all the time –in our discussions and in our chains of command."

Once again, lauding the chief of the Pakistani Army, Mullen said, "I agree very strongly in General Kayani," and spoke of how this concept has to be balanced with " the relationship between Pakistan and India and they've built a military that's been a focus almost exclusively on that  -- that shifting he (Kayani) requires (to combat) the extremist threat that he has in his country. You look at the number of Pakistani citizens that have been lost to bombs in the last several years, when you look at the number of his people --over a 1,000 soldiers have been lost in this fight as well and obviously in the tough fight they are in right now -- those sacrifices continue."

But he said that "he is shifting," and reiterated as he had done in his opening remarks about being taken on the field during his last visit to Pakistan by Kayani and shown the counter-insurgency training that two division-based counter-insurgency exercises of two of his battalions. "It as impressive both in scope and complexity."

 "I was not aware of any counter-insurgency training and there was a lot of criticism (about), are they shifting," a few months ago, Mullen recalled.

"Again, we would like to see them do this more rapidly, (but) that said," Mullen acknowledged, "It's his Army, his country, his political leadership, his citizens, and in the end, they decide how fast they are going to move in that direction."

He said that "being someone who is also fighting two wars, I have sympathy (with Kayani and the military leadership) with the need to sort of provide forces in two difference places, and in fact, one being the convention fight basically (with India) and the other one being a counter-insurgency fight. So, he's changing on the run."

In his opening remarks, Mullen said the military relationship with Pakistan was still in its recovery phase "from almost 12 years of silence during which the Pressler Amendment was enforced (when Pakistan was slapped with punitive economic and military sanctions and all aid suspended for developing a nuclear weapons device)."

Mullen said, "Our military relationship, which often has been a national relationship, have in many ways started anew," and added: "I value the relationship General Kayani and I have cultivated over the past year-and-a-half and more importantly, that kind of a relationship is slowly being replicated down our respective military chains and in our war colleges. In all this, there is opportunity now for both sides."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC