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Pak govt will not be toppled by the army: Pentagon

By Aziz Haniffa
December 10, 2009 21:46 IST
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The Pentagon does not believe that the shaky civilian government of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari will be deposed by a military coup anytime soon.

United States' Central Command Commander General David Petraeus assured the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that "as one who's been in Pakistan, in fact about four or five times in the last six months, and had a lot of conversations with military leaders as well as the civilian leadership, I actually don't think that the current challenges imperil civilian rule."

He acknowledged, "There clearly are potential challenges to President Zardari, but again, I don't see the prospect or the desire for anyone to change civilian rule."

Petraeus added, "We'll work very hard to establish relationships of trust and confidence with the Pakistani military, especially the Pakistani army. And, again, against this backdrop of history and a realisation that there was a period of a decade or so during which no Pakistani students came to the United States. So, we are making up for the lost generation."

He was apparently referring to the time the Pressler Amendment kicked in 20 years ago, when then President George H W Bush couldn't certify that Pakistan was not developing a nuclear bomb and all aid to Pakistan -- including economic and military -- was suspended. This resulted in scores of Pakistani military officers, who annually attended training in the US under the International Military and Education Training, being denied that opportunity.

The Pentagon has always bemoaned these sanctions, complaining that an entire generation of Pakistani military officers, who could have developed close relationships and training with American counterparts and in the US, were lost and perhaps became radicalised.

Petraeus told the US lawmakers that in the past few years, "I think we have built these relationships patiently and stronger," and that Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "has done a great deal of that as well."

The Pentagon has "substantially augmented the number of individuals in the Office of Defense," dealing with Pakistan as a sign of the importance of these military-to-military ties with Pakistan, he said.

"And, again, what we are trying to do is to build these relationships to where they become a partnership in confronting what clearly are shared threats, not just to Pakistan and the region, but also to our own country," he said.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC