BRUSSELS – With relations strained between Pakistan and the United States, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is hopeful that military relationships can bridge any political divide between Washington and Islamabad.
“I’m committed to try to improve the relationship, and I do believe a military-to-military dialogue led by [Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command] with occasional reinforcement by [Secretary of Defense Jim] Mattis, myself and others is the right approach,” said Gen. Joe Dunford.
“Do we agree on everything right now? No, we don’t. But are we committed to [a] more effective relationship with Pakistan? We are, and I’m not giving up on that,” Dunford told reporters during a trip to NATO.
Relations with Pakistan took a hit in early January as the Trump administration announced it would be withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance funding over what it calls Pakistan’s failure to curb militant groups along the border with Afghanistan.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement responded to the news by warning that “arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats.”
Dunford has good reason to hope military relations with Pakistan can weather the political fight. The Pentagon relies on supply lines through Pakistan known as the ground lines of communication, or GLOC, to deliver materiel into Afghanistan.
Those lines represent the cheapest way of getting supplies to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, something the Pentagon learned the hard way between November 2011 and July 2012, when Pakistan shut down the GLOC routes following an incident where 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by NATO forces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Reporting in 2012 revealed that costs for getting needed supplies into Afghanistan went from $17 million a month to $104 million a month, a significant upcharge even by Pentagon budget standards. With significantly fewer troops in Afghanistan today than in 2012, the costs would not be quite so high, but could still hurt a Department of Defense that finds itself lacking budget stability.
Perhaps more costly than the actual dollar value would be forcing the U.S. to take assets away from the battlefield, and toward assisting logistics, including cargo carriers, tankers and ISR capabilities.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.