The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael J. Mullen arrived in Pakistan Wednesday like a messenger in a storm bearing a clearly mixed message -- that the United States is profoundly upset by the continuing attacks on U.S. soldiers by Pakistan-based, and perhaps supported, insurgents but that the relationship between the two countries is much too important to abandon.
In interviews with U.S. and Pakistani reporters, Mullen said that the relationship between the Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the Afghan insurgent group known as the Haqqani network, was at the "core" of the problems between the U.S. and Pakistan.
Before arriving in Pakistan, Mullen travelled to eastern and southern Afghanistan meeting with U.S. and coalition commanders who detailed both the progress on the battlefield and the persistent American casualties. One senior U.S. military officer carries with him a stack of 121 cards, each with the photograph and name of the troops killed under his command in the past year alone--deaths that he attributed to the Haqqani network.
Mullen stressed that it was his "sacred duty" as America's most senior military officer to represent in the strongest terms possible his objection to any support that is being provided to the Haqqani group by Pakistani intelligence.
For its part, Pakistani officials are equally irritated at the U.S., believing that the U.S. is insufficiently sensitive and often arrogant regarding important issues of national sovereignty. Pakistani officials point to the case of the, who shot and killed two assailants in broad daylight in downtown Lahore on January 27, and the increase in attacks by unmanned aircraft against insurgents in eastern Pakistan, which many here say are not coordinated with Pakistani security officials.
Mullen acknowledged that the two countries were in the midst of a "turbulent time," but that both countries understand the importance of salvaging the situation. "I think that all of us believe that we cannot let this relationship come apart," he said.
Mullen, who met one-on-one with Pakistan's army chief, Ashfaq Kiyani Wednesday evening, said that the stakes were simply too high. " We walk away from it at our peril, quite frankly," he warned.