WASHINGTON: Ashton Carter, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be next Defense Secretary, Wednesday favored continued U.S. support for Pakistan, saying it will be in American interest to expand cooperation with Pakistan against terrorists and any emerging threats.
Appearing for his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carter who will replace Chuck Hagel as Pentagon Chief upon confirmation, noted that counterterrorism cooperation remained a critical shared strategic interest between the United States and Pakistan.
“Pakistan still faces a real and potent threat from several militant groups within its borders, such as the Pakistani Taliban, responsible for the recent school attack in Peshawar,” he said, in response to questions put in advance by members of the panel.
“We also share Pakistan’s strategic interest in improved relations between Islamabad and Kabul. I believe that the United States and Pakistan should continue to work to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and to improve regional security,” he said in answers to a series of questions, as released by the committee.
If confirmed, Carter, who has served as deputy defense secretary in the Obama Administration, said he would “continue to work on improving our relationship with Pakistan by collaborating where our strategic interests converge and engaging where they diverge.”
“Moving forward, I believe it is in the United States” interest to expand counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan in our fight against al-Qaeda, and to counter any emerging threats, he noted.
Additionally, Carter said, he would seek to “facilitate cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and encourage communication between Pakistan and India, as these relationships will continue to be vital to stability in the region.”
Carter backed continued U.S. military assistance for Pakistan.
He acknowledged that since last summer, Pakistani forces have been clearing militants from their strongholds along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Pakistan’s military has been able to carry out these operations at a more effective pace and scale in part thanks to U.S. reimbursements for Pakistan’s operational expenses, he said.
“Additionally, I understand U.S. security assistance programs have provided the Pakistan military with many of the tools necessary to conduct successful operations in this region. Continued U.S. support will remain critical to the success of these efforts.”
The defense nominee cautioned against the notion of conditioning U.S. assistance for Pakistan.
“If confirmed, I will consult within the Department and the U.S.
interagency on how best to incentivize Pakistani action that is in the mutual interest of the United States.
The United States and Pakistan do work together on common objectives, and I believe we should carefully examine the impact of conditions on Pakistani cooperation. If confirmed, I will evaluate what additional support would be appropriate from the U.S. government.”