WASHINGTON - US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen on Sunday acknowledged that Pakistan had made an awful lot of progress" in its fight against the Taliban insurgency in the country's northwest. Speaking at a luncheon at the National Press Club, he referred to the recent developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and said things were now moving in the right direction and the United States now needs to remain engaged in both the countries. "A year ago, not many people would have said that the Pakistani military could pull that (Swat) off, and yet they have made an awful lot of progress," Mullen added. He also vowed to foster a long-term partnership with Pakistan, a key US ally in the war on Terror involving the development of the country's security capacity. When I travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the question that comes up, either directly or indirectly, is, are you staying this time or are you leaving? And we left Afghanistan in 1989, and they remember that. We actually sanctioned Pakistan from about 1990 to 2002. And so they're very wary of what our -- what is going to be our sustained position. And that's why I think it's so important to engage at every level, and that's what's going on right now. "I think we need long-term partnerships here with both (Pakistan and Afghanistan), which are just starting to be renewed under, obviously, very challenging circumstances. This is a military that's got focus on two different fronts, whether it's the Kashmir area in the east, and they recognize there's an -- there is a significant extremist threat internal to their country that they're now -- that they're now attacking and dealing with, and it's very much counterinsurgency-based. In his remarks, he also repeated his claim that Al Qaeda leadership resides in the federally-administered tribal areas (FATA) of Pakistan. "The top priority, with respect to that strategy, is to defeat al Qaeda, whose leadership resides in the FATA -- in the federal areas, the tribal areas -- in Western Pakistan," Mullen said.