Pak critical country for US: Mullen

Mullen said that America's trust deficit with Pakistan is quite low and that the US is ''digging itself out of a hole that it dug into.''

America had abandoned Pakistan for 12 years from 1990 to 2002 ''so the trust deficent is pretty significant'', Mullen claimed.

"This is a country that is a critical country. I believe we have to have a long-term partnership with, and we're just starting that," he said.

The top American General said his frequent visits to Pakistan were aimed at building up relationship between the two countries, specially between the two armies.

He said the popularity of Pakistan military had jumped quite significantly recently after its crackdown on the militants.

"A year ago the popularity of the Pakistani military in terms of fighting the insurgents was in pretty low numbers, on the order of 10 to 15 to 20 percent. Now, it's routinely above 80 percent.

"That's a pretty dramatic turnaround and it has made its ability to fight much easier and much more acceptable to the Pakistani people," Mullen said.

"I think in our relationship with Pakistan, the measure will be in the long run is are the Pakistani people do they support a strong relationship with the US, of America and that I think is still out there to be decided," Mullen said.

"We are digging ourselves out of a hole that we dug ourselves into over that period of time. And we are by no means home on that relationship," Mullen said.

Mullen who has been to Pakistan over a dozen times in the last one year, said: "It is all about the relationship between our countries, which is what I am spending my time on, most of that being with the head of their army, who is the senior military officer and most influential officer in the Pakistani military."

Observing that it is much more than just military because there is a civilian component here as well, Mullen asserted that Pakistan is a critical country for the US in the long-run.

"In fact, there are those who would argue we are still digging ourselves out of a hole and we have not even gotten to ground zero yet. They are critically important in that region -- their relationship with India is a big deal and they have a significant, and they believe existential, threat from India," he said.

Noting that US' relationship with Afghanistan is also critical, Mullen said: "They are a sovereign country in which resides the al-Qaida leadership. So I think the relationship is critical and will need to continue to grow. And it's not just mil- to-mil; it's got to be across the board."

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