US Secretary of Defense nominee, Lt Gen Lloyd Austin (retd) has said that he would further operationalize India’s major “Major Defense Partner” status.
During his confirmation hearing in Congress, the former US Central Command chief was asked on how he would enhance the overall defense relationship between the US and India and what priorities would he establish.
Austin said: “If confirmed, my overarching objective for our defence relationship with India would be to continue elevating the partnership. I would further operationalise India’s ‘Major Defence Partner’ status and continue to build upon existing strong defence cooperation to ensure the US and Indian militaries can collaborate to address shared interests.”
“I would also seek to deepen and broaden our defence cooperation through the Quad security dialogue and other regional multilateral engagements,” he added.
On Pakistan, Austin said: “I understand Pakistan has taken constructive steps to meet US requests in support of the Afghanistan peace process.”
Austin said that Pakistan has also taken steps against anti-Indian groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, although this progress is incomplete.
“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,” he said.
On the Afghanistan issue, Austin said that Pakistan is an essential partner in any 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,” he added.
Austin said 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,” he said.
Austin said he will press Pakistan to prevent its territory from being used for terrorist purposes. “If confirmed, 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, Austin said. (IANS)