New US admin to revive training future military leaders of Pakistan
Pentagon chief nominee Gen Austin promises to fight extremists in the ranks of American military
The incoming US administration of President-elect Joe Biden needs Pakistan to defeat Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State-Khorasan Province in order to enhance global stability.
This was said by Biden’s nominated Pentagon chief General (retd) Lloyd J Austin, who made these remarks during his confirmation hearing for the post of secretary of defence before the United States Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
Austin said Pakistan will continue to play an “important role in any political settlement in Afghanistan” and the US also needs to work with the country to defeat Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State-Khorasan Province and enhance regional stability.
Continuing to build relationships with Pakistan’s military will “provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues”, he said and added the US sees Pakistan as an “essential partner” in any peace process in Afghanistan.
“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.”
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.”
“Pakistan is a sovereign country,” he said when asked what tools and options the US had to influence Pakistan. “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.”
In response to a question on his priorities for India, Austin said his “overarching objective for our defense relationship with India would be to continue elevating the partnership”.
On the home front, Lloyd Austin pledged to tackle extremists in the military's own ranks, after some members of the military dressed in civilian clothing took part in the attack on the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
"The activity that we've seen recently in terms of potential racists or extremist behavior within our ranks is in my view absolutely unacceptable," said Austin, a former general who is set to become the first African American to head the Pentagon.
Austin promised "to rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity."
His comments came as 12 members of the National Guard force deployed to protect Biden's inauguration on Wednesday were removed during a sweep of background checks to root out any members with potential links to extremist groups.
"The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can't do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks," said Austin, whose nomination has to be confirmed by the Senate.
When asked to name the main threat to the United States, the 67-year-old cited the coronavirus pandemic, followed by China.
"It's killed over 400,000 of our American citizens. That's just an incredible, incredible loss of life," he said, offering his department's help to combat the virus.
But he noted that "China is our most challenging, our most significant challenge going forward."
He said that under his leadership, the Pentagon would "make sure that we are prepared to meet any challenge and that we continue to present a credible deterrent to China or any other aggressor who would want to take us on, and convince them that would be a really bad idea."
Austin remained vague about specific projects he would undertake as head of the US military, but in his written responses to the senators, he said he planned to re-examine outgoing President Donald Trump's proposals to pull US troops out of Germany and Somalia.
By contrast he said he supported a withdrawal from Afghanistan. "I certainly would like to see this conflict end with a negotiated settlement," he said, while insisting that the US remain focused on "counter-terrorism issues" in the war-torn country.
Asked about the threat from Iran, with whom Biden has said he wants to resume dialogue, he said Tehran remained a "destabilizing element in the region" and that it would be dangerous if the Iranian regime had access to nuclear weapons.
With inputs from AFP.