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January 21, 2021

Pak-US military ties to continue on key issues

Top Story

January 21, 2021

WASHINGTON: The new US administration plans to continue building relations with Pakistan and especially with its military on key issues. "Pakistan is an essential partner in any peace process in Afghanistan," the nominated Secretary of Defence, Gen Lloyd Austin, told a panel of the Senate Arms Services Committee during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. "If confirmed, I will encourage a regional approach that garners support from neighbours like Pakistan, while also deterring regional actors, from serving as spoilers to the Afghanistan peace process,” he said.

Gen Austin has served as a head of the U.S. Central Command. If confirmed, he will be the first African American to hold the position.

He also acknowledged Pakistan's efforts against terrorism but also called these efforts "incomplete". He said "I understand Pakistan has taken contrastive steps to meet US requests in support of the Afghanistan peace process. Pakistan has also taken steps against anti-India groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, although this progress is incomplete."

He also said that he'll press Pakistan to prevent its territory from being used as a sanctuary for militants and violent extremist organizations. "Continuing to build relationships with Pakistan's military will provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues."

Responding to another question about US relations with Pakistan, he said he would focus on shared interests which include training future Pakistan military leaders through the use of International Military Education and Training funds. "Pakistan will play an important role in any political settlement in Afghanistan. We also need to work with Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and to enhance regional stability.

Former president Donald Trump had cancelled US financial, military and other assistance to Pakistan. Reviewing the possible impact of that, Gen Austiin said that "many factors in addition to the security assistance suspension may impact Pakistan's cooperation, including Afghanistan negotiations and the dangerous escalation following the Pulwama terrorist attack."

However, commenting on U.S. relations with India he said, "If confirmed my overarching objective to our defense relationship with India would be to continue elevating the partnership."

He said he would further operationalize India's 'Major Defense Partner' status and continue to build upon existing strong defense cooperation to ensure the US and Indian militaries can collaborate to address shared interests.