US to press Pak not to harbour militants: Gen Austin


WASHINGTON: “Notwithstanding the Trump era is over in America but the policy of pressurising Pakistan will continue unabated”. This is a conclusion of political observers after the first policy statement by the US Secretary of Defense nominee General (retd) Lloyd Austin submitted to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing here on Tuesday.

Gen Austin announced to enhance military ties with Pakistan and said that he would promote cooperation with Pakistan on various important issues but at the same time, “I will press Pakistan 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.”

Asked if he has perceived any change in Pakistan’s cooperation with the US since the Trump administration’s decision in 2018 to withhold security assistance, Gen Austin said: “I understand 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-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammad, although this progress is incomplete.”

The general, however, acknowledged 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.”

“Pakistan is a sovereign country,” he said when asked what tools and options the US had to influence Pakistan.

Lloyd Austin said that Pakistan holds the role of a critical ally in any peace process in Afghanistan. It has taken positive steps to bring peace to Afghanistan at the request of the United States, he added.

A file picture taken on November 29, 2011 shows the then US Vice President Joe Biden, left, with then General Lloyd Austin, the top US commander in Iraq, in Baghdad.

“We see Pakistan as an important partner,” he said. The Biden administration will also work to thwart elements trying to disrupt the Afghan peace process. He acknowledged that Pakistan is an essential partner for any peace process in Afghanistan.

Responding to a question, Lloyd Austin said he would focus on the common interests of Pakistan and the United States, including the use of military education and training funds to train Pakistan’s future military leaders.

According to media reports, addressing the United States Senate Armed Services Committee,

Gen Lloyd J Austin said that the Biden administration sees Pakistan as an “essential partner” in any peace process in Afghanistan and believes that “continuing to build relationships with Pakistan’s military will provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues,” says its nominated defence chief Gen Lloyd J Austin.

“Pakistan is an essential partner in any peace process in Afghanistan,” Austin, a former head of the US Central Command, told the committee. “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.”

When asked what changes he would recommend to US relations with Pakistan as the new defence chief, Gen Austin said: “I will focus on our 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.”