For the United States, much may be riding on an unlikely relationship between America’s highest ranking military officer and Pakistan’s powerful army chief.
Over cups of tea and the occasional cigar, the avuncular American admiral and the reserved general talk about terrorist threats and sensitive military operations in a region President Barack Obama deems the “central front” in the fight against Al-Qaeda.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he has gone out of his way to build a rapport with his Pakistani counterpart, General Ashfaq Kayani, speaking to him regularly and holding 10 face-to-face meetings since November 2007.
“I’m a big believer that the worst time to try to get to know someone is during a crisis, so this constant dialogue I have with General Kayani is vital,” said Mullen, responding to questions from AFP by email.
Although the two come from different worlds -- the US admiral is the son of a successful Hollywood publicist and Kayani comes from a working-class family headed by a father who was a non-commissioned officer -- a bond of trust has begun to form, Mullen’s spokesman Captain John Kirby said.
The meetings are conducted with few aides and far from public view.