Washington: The head of the US military said that Pakistan needs time to come to terms with the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, warning it would be a dangerous mistake to abandon the war partnership.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Thursday acknowledged setbacks in cooperation with Pakistan, which has ordered out much of the US military force that was training forces in counter-insurgency.
But Mullen, in a breakfast meeting with reporters, said Pakistan has been going through "a great deal of introspection" since US special forces killed the world`s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, in a secret raid near the country`s top military academy.
"I think we need to give them a little time and space to do that. And that makes all the sense in the world to me," said Mullen, who visited Pakistan last week with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"I think the worst thing we could do would be cut them off."
Mullen feared a repeat of the instability in the 1990s, when the United States distanced itself from the region after US- and Pakistani-backed Islamic guerrillas drove out Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
If the United States again scaled back involvement, "10 years from now, 20 years from now, we go back and it`s much more intense and it`s much more dangerous”, he told reporters in Washington.
"We`re just not living in a world where we can afford to be unengaged in a place like this."
A number of US lawmakers have called into question the billions of dollars in assistance to Pakistan, accusing the country of playing a double game of seeking foreign money while keeping ties to extremists.
Mullen, who has frequently met with his Pakistani counterpart General Ashfaq Kayani in hopes of building a personal rapport, repeated that he did not believe senior Pakistanis knew that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad.
But he conceded that Pakistan has forced "a very significant cutback" in the number of US forces to train its military.
The Pakistani military needed to complete its internal debate on the relationship with the United States "before we get back to a point where we`re doing any kind of significant training”, said Mullen, who steps down in September.
"It`s a country whose sovereignty is precious to them, as ours is to us. We have to remember that."
Bin Laden`s death came as the United States searches for a political solution to end the nearly decade-long military campaign in Afghanistan launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
President Barack Obama has tripled US forces in Afghanistan but promised to begin a drawdown in July. Although the deadline is just a month away, Mullen said General David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, has not yet made a recommendation.
"I can honestly say nobody knows what the answer is at this particular point in time," Mullen said. "In the end, this is a decision for the President and nobody else."
Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, the number two US commander in Afghanistan, said that bin Laden`s killing had not changed the core US mission of denying an al Qaeda sanctuary and stopping a new Taliban takeover.
Speaking by videoconference to the Centre for a New American Security, Rodriguez said "we have not seen any effects of his death on the ground to date in Afghanistan”.
Opinion polls show that much of the US public wants an end to the war, weary of the human and financial toll. But Obama and NATO allies have increasingly emphasised 2014 as the date to transfer security to Afghan forces.
The rival Republican Party has attacked Obama for mentioning any withdrawal date, saying it would encourage the Taliban to wait out.
"The Taliban may not have watches, but they do have calendars," former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said on Thursday as he launched a bid for the Republican nomination to challenge Obama in next year`s election.