“Pakistan is an essential partner in any peace process in Afghanistan,” said retired Gen Lloyd J Austin, the Biden adminstration’s nominated Secretary of Defense of the United States (US). Speaking at the confirmation ceremony of his appointment on Tuesday, he said that “continuing to build relationships with Pakistan’s military will provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues.”

Austin is a retired four-star army general who served as the 12th commander of United States Central Command. He retired in 2016 and would need a waiver from Congress to take the post, as he has been out of the military less than the required seven years.

“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 told the United States Senate Armed Services Committee.

When asked whether he saw any change in Pakistan’s cooperation with the US since incumbent President Trump’s decision in 2018 to withhold security assistance to Pakistan, Austin said that he acknowledges the “constructive stepts to meet US requests in support of the Afghan peace process” taken by Pakistan.

“Pakistan has also taken steps against anti-Indian groups, such as Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammad, although this progress is incomplete,” he added.

However, he said that many other factors, outside of security assistance suspension, may impact Pakistan’s cooperation, “including Afghanistan negotiations and the dangerous escalation following the Pulwama terrorist attack.”

“I will press Pakistan to prevent its territory from being used as a sanctuary for militants and violent extremist organisations,” Gen Austin stressed. “Continuing to build relationships with Pakistan’s military will provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues.”

When asked if the US has any tools or options to influence Pakistan, he stated: “Pakistan is a sovereign country.”

Relations with India

US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said on Tuesday that the Biden administration would also like to maintain a close relationship with India.

“India has been a bipartisan success story of our successive administrations. It started towards the end of the Clinton administration,” he said.

“During the Obama administration, we deepened cooperation on defence procurement and information sharing,” he said. “The Trump administration carried that forward including its concept of Indo-Pacific and to make sure we were working with India so that no country in the region, including China, could challenge its sovereignty.”

Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Blinken said that the US would also continue to work with India on concerns the two countries share about terrorism.

Afghan peace deal review

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Antony Blinken said he wanted to review the US-Taliban peace deal. However, he clarified that the Biden administration would also continue the peace process started by the Trump administration.

“We want to end this so-called forever war,” the top US diplomat state. “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,” Blinken said.

“We have to look carefully at what has actually been negotiated. I haven’t been privy to it yet.”

Revitalising damaged alliances

Antony Blinken, speaking at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, said he will also work to revitalise damaged American diplomacy and build a united front to counter the challenges posed by Russia, China, and Iran.

“We do have a big task ahead of us in restoring, revitalising those relationships. I do think it starts… with showing up again,” said Blinken. “Some of our allies and partners question the sustainability of our commitments based on the past few years and that’s going to be a hard hill to climb.”


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