Robert Gates is heading to Pakistan

Robert Gates is heading to Pakistan

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is going to Pakistan for a long-awaited visit, multiple sources familiar with the trip told The Cable. Gates is set to meet with basically the entire Pakistani leadership, including Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the Army chief of staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and intelligence chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

There are a bunch of issues on the table to be discussed. The Pakistanis want increased military support if they are going to expand their war against the extremists in South Waziristan to North Waziristan, where the Afghan Taliban are located. That’s a thorny issue, because Pakistan has yet to make the strategic decision to confront those groups but the Obama team is pushing hard for that as part of their new surge strategy.

“The Americans want that to happen yesterday, the Pakistanis want to do it the day after tomorrow. Most likely it will happen sometime in between,” one of the sources explained.

Gates will also likely discuss military supply routes to Afghanistan, which run (dangerously) through Pakistan, the ongoing but semi-secret cooperation on drone strikes, and the expansion of the military presence at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan.

The Pentagon’s representation at the embassy, known as the Office of the Defense Representative, is growing from 45 to 280 personnel, causing some concern among the Pakistani military, one diplomatic source noted, and Gates will have to address those concerns.

Pakistan has been getting a lot of love from the Obama administration lately. Senior administration officials who have gone to Islamabad lately include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, DNI Adm. Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and others.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell wouldn’t confirm or deny the trip. The dates are closely held due to security concerns, so we’ll just say “soon.”

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