He said that the US ultimately couldn’t win the war in Afghanistan without being able to win in relationship with Pakistan.
The secretary said restoring the strained relationship with the United States critical to long-term progress in Afghanistan.
“It is essential to stability in that region that we not only achieve a peaceful resolution with regards to Afghanistan, but that we are able to develop a more stable relationship with Pakistan as well,” he said. “If that region is ever going to find peace, it is going to happen not only by achieving stability in Afghanistan, but also by achieving some degree of stability in Pakistan as well.”
The US relationship with Pakistan has been “difficult and complicated,” Panetta conceded. “But it is an important relationship, and it is one we have to continue to work at.”
The secretary noted that Pakistan has provided important cooperation to the United States. “At the same time, we have had some serious difficulties with regards to some of the operations that involve groups in the federally administered tribal areas (Fata) and groups along the border,” he said.
Strain between the two countries increased after the May 2 raid that took down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and intensified after a Nov. 26 engagement near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
He expressed hope that the investigation will shed light on “exactly what happened,” but said he has not yet received an update on any findings.
The United States also is working to get Pakistan to reopen ground supply routes into Afghanistan it closed after the border incident. “I am confident that will happen,” Panetta said. “I remain confident that at one point, we are going to be able to restore our normal supply routes.”
For now, Panetta said he’s satisfied that troops have the supplies they need to continue their operations in Afghanistan. “Our command structure has done an incredible job ensuring that one way or another, we are able to get those supplies in,” he said.