US defence secretary-designate James Mattis has said that the Trump administration would offer incentives to Pakistan to cooperate with the United States on critical issues.
At his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Forces Committee on Thursday afternoon, Mr Mattis underlined the need to stay engaged with Pakistan while asking it to do more to eradicate terrorism from the region.
“If confirmed, I will work with the State Department and the Congress to incentivise Pakistan’s cooperation on issues critical to our national interests and the region’s security, with focus on Pakistan’s need to expel or neutralise externally-focused militant groups that operate within its borders,” Mr Mattis told the committee while responding to a question.
Mr Mattis, a general who retired from the US Marine Corps in 2013, has long experience of dealing with both Afghanistan and Pakistan, first as a combat officer and then as commander of the US Central Command.
He was known in the armed forces as “Mad Dog Mattis” for his aggressive style but was widely respected as a courageous officer.
The general’s comments on Pakistan indicate that the incoming Trump administration will continue with the existing US policy towards the country.
Mr Mattis complimented Pakistan for its action against terror groups in the country, but said that he would push for more effective targeting of groups that were aimed at neighbouring countries.
As often expressed by the Obama administration officials, the incoming defence secretary also complained that some Afghan Taliban groups were still allegedly using Pakistan’s tribal areas for stirring troubles in Afghanistan.
“Sanctuaries and freedom of movement for the Afghan Taliban and associated militant networks inside Pakistani territory is a key operational issue faced by the Afghan security forces,” he pointed out.
Mr Mattis said that if confirmed, he would “examine efforts to deny sanctuary to the extremist forces” undermining the stability and security of Afghanistan.
He noted that the US and Pakistani militaries had a long relationship, which needed to be rebuilt.
“Our relationship with Pakistan, including our military-to-military relationship, has had highs and lows. We have long faced a lack of trust within the Pakistani military and government about our goals in the region. If confirmed, I will work to build the trust that we need for an effective partnership,” he told the Senate Committee. The United States has conducted military exercises with Pakistan in an effort to increase thrust and interoperability, he added.
Mr Mattis said that Pakistan had “learned some hard lessons” from its dealings with the Taliban, as this caused widespread violence inside the country as well. “I believe they should do more to collaborate with their neighbour. We should urge Pakistan to take further actions against the Taliban and the Haqqani network,” he added.
Arguing that countries in the region “have the responsibility to support the reconciliation process” in Afghanistan, Mr Mattis said that the neighbouring states “should increase pressure on the Afghan Taliban and associated militant networks” to stop their campaigns of violence.
He praised Pakistan’s efforts to battle “internally-focused” militants. “In a sign of its commitment, its military has suffered significant casualties in this counterinsurgency effort,” he said, and offered to help Pakistan in defeating these militants.
Mr Mattis said he would not use phrases such as “rebalance” or “pivot” while talking about its relations with China as these implied that it was turning away from its commitments elsewhere.
“But China’s behaviour has led countries in the region to look for stronger US leadership. “If confirmed, I will examine ways to strengthen our allies and partners, while taking a careful look at our own military capabilities in the region,” he said.
Mr Mattis pledged to continue with the Obama administration’s policy of enhancing a long-term strategic relationship with India, based on the convergence of mutual interests and shared democratic values.