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February 28, 2018

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Positive indicators coming from Pakistan on militants: US General

WASHINGTON: The US military's Central Command has acknowledged that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could serve as a stabilising, profit-generating project in the region, albeit improving China’s military posture.

The chief of the Command General Joseph Votel said here Monday that the "collection of infrastructure projects already provides China with access to Gwadar Port in Pakistan, which is operated through a Chinese-Pakistani agreement and has the potential to increase China's strategic presence in the Indian Ocean.

Speaking before the Armed Services Committee, Votel maintained that Pakistan's cooperation remained imperative for the success of Donald Trump's South Asia strategy. "As the president made clear in the unveiling of the strategy last August, the United States expects Pakistan to take decisive action against the Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders that operate from its territory. Taliban and Haqqani leadership and fighters continue to find sanctuary in Pakistan. Other Pakistan-based groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba threaten Pakistan’s neighbour, India, and carry out attacks that jeopardise regional stability and US strategic interests," he said.

General Votel said security along the border with Afghanistan would remain a priority in 2018 as Pakistan seeks to expand border control mechanisms and efforts to improve paramilitary security capabilities. He acknowledged Pakistan's sacrifices in the war against terrorism, and added that anti-Pakistan militant groups like TTP were able to conduct devastating terrorist attacks within Pakistan killing scores of civilians and military.

Explaining the current situation and positive indicators from Pakistan on militants he has observed, the general told the committee members that there has been an increase in communication, information sharing and actions on the ground in response according to specific requests from the US.

However, he said, ongoing national counter-terrorism efforts against anti-Pakistan militants throughout the country have not yet translated into the definitive actions we require Pakistan to take against Afghan Taliban or Haqqani leaders. "This problem is compounded by increasing cross-border terrorist attacks and fires between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which hinders both countries’ abilities to coordinate on border security," he said.

Votel added that the defence department has preserved its valuable military-to-military relationship with Pakistan and attempted to increase transparency and communication with influential military leaders. "Achieving long-term stability in Afghanistan and defeating the insurgency will be difficult without Pakistan’s support and assistance," he said.

“Although, most security assistance for Pakistan is currently suspended, since 2002 Pakistan has been among the largest recipients of US provided Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and International Military Education and Training (IMET). To date Pakistan has also been reimbursed hundreds of millions of dollars in Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for counter-insurgency operations that support US security objectives in the region. We use ground and air routes in Pakistan to deliver materiel to Afghanistan,” the general said at the hearing.

He said that Central Asian partners of the US remain concerned about the long-term stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the spectre of returning foreign terrorist fighters to their home countries. "We are postured not only to help them address transnational threats, but also to continue to develop our military-to-military relationships in the CASA sub-region. In support of these efforts, our two major forums that promote military cooperation, the CASA Directors of Military Intelligence Conference and CASA Chiefs of Defence Conference, are developing beyond ceremonial affairs into venues that encourage free-flowing military-to-military communication and seek practical solutions to security challenges," he said, adding, "these efforts, in addition to our operations in Afghanistan, will ensure that Centcom continues to support the Administration's South Asia Strategy in the CASA sub-region with a long-term, regional approach."

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