Wednesday Jan 20, 2021
With Joe Biden in the White House, the United States will continue building relationships with Pakistan's military that provide openings for Islamabad and Washington to cooperate on key issues.
This was stated by General Lloyd J Austin during his confirmation hearing for the post of secretary of defence before the United States Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
Austin recognised Pakistan as an essential partner in peace process in Afghanistan. "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."
The former US general said he would focus on shared interests including training future Pakistan military leaders through the use of International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds.
"Pakistan will play an important role in any political settlement in Afghanistan," he continued. "We also need to work with Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and to enhance regional stability."
Austin said Pakistan has taken "constructive steps to meet US requests in support of the Afghanistan peace process".
"Pakistan has also taken steps against anti-Indian groups, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM)," he told the committee. "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."
The defence nominee said Pakistan is a sovereign nation and he would press Islamabad to "prevent its territory from being used as a sanctuary for militants and violent extremist organisations."
"Continuing to build relationships with Pakistan’s military will provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues," he concluded.
Administered by the US Stated Department, the IMET is a small facet of US security aid programmes worth around $2 billion. The programme was abruptly suspended by Trump in January 2018 in a bid to compel Islamabad to launch a crackdown against militants.
That decision prompted cancellation of 66 slots set aside for Pakistani military officers at the IMET programme in August 2018.
In December 2019, Trump administration approved resumption of the military training and education programme. On January 4, 2020, the US president signed off on the decision to "strengthen military-to-military cooperation between US and Pakistan on shared priorities and advance US national security".
Making the announcement, former US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Ambassador Alice Wells had added that the overall security assistance suspension for Pakistan remained in effect.
Meanwhile, Biden's nominee for the post of secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has said that the new administration would be reviewing the US-Taliban peace deal.
Stressing that the Biden administration also wanted to end the decades-long war, Blinken said: "We want to bring our forces home. We want to retain some capacity to deal with any resurgence of terrorism, which is what brought us there in the first place.
“We have to look carefully at what has actually been negotiated. I haven't been privy to it yet," he emphasised.