U.S. Joint Chiefs Work With Pakistani General

ADM. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, likes to tell people he's on his third cup of tea with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who heads Pakistan's Army. During their nine meetings in the past year, the two men have differed over strategies for fighting insurgents, made nice after U.S. airstrikes on targets in Pakistan—and forged what people from both sides describe as the most important relationship in the fraught dynamic between the two countries. How fraught? During a visit last week to the United States, according to Pakistani sources, Kayani and Pakistani ministers pressed Washington to halt unmanned Predator attacks, which in recent months have killed about a dozen top Qaeda and Taliban operatives. The administration's response: no.

The tea analogy refers to a Pakistani proverb: on the first cup, you're a stranger, and on the second, a guest. By the third cup, you're family. In early meetings, according to one U.S. source, who declined to be named discussing sensitive matters, Mullen suggested ways Pakistan could help in the war on terror—and Kayani disputed even the use of the term. Mullen has pressed Kayani to worry less about India and more about Al Qaeda; Kayani counters with pleas for promised military gear. When Kayani arranged for Mullen to visit his troops on the front lines, Mullen saw the socks and sandals they were wearing in midwinter, and the old Lee-Enfield rifles in their hands.

The turning point came last August, during secret meetings in the Indian Ocean aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. Mullen had top officers with him, including incoming CentCom chief Gen. David Petraeus; Kayani brought Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who now heads intelligence. Planners were so worried that Kayani, a chain smoker, would chafe at the ship's smoking ban that they scheduled regular breaks and let him light up on the deck. At dusk, the men gathered to watch the warplanes take off for missions over Afghanistan. Kayani was impressed. One source said Mullen had hoped to demonstrate the planning and precision involved, perhaps to dispel the notion that civilian casualties were a result of carelessness.

In an interview months later, Mullen told NEWSWEEK that Kayani was making promises and keeping them. Mullen may want to return the favor. Last week, according to one of the sources, Pakistan requested more equipment, including Scout UAVs for reconnaissance and devices to intercept communications. And there's still the matter of those airstrikes, which Kayani says are turning the Pakistani people against relations with the United States. More tea, anyone?