US Secretary of Defense Lt Gen Lloyd Austin (retd) has said that he would further operationalise India's "Major Defence Partner" status while Pakistan is expected to do more on containing 'anti-India terrorists.'
He told this to the members of the Senate Armed Services Commiittee during his confirmation hearing. The former chief of Central Military Command, Austin was asked how he would enhance the overall defence relationship between the US and India and what priorities would he establish.
Austin is the former central command chief of the US Military and his appointment was approved by the committee with an overwhelming majority.
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."
On Pakistan, Austin said he will press Islamabad 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."
He said although Pakistan has taken steps against anti India terror groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad and lashkar-e-toiba, the counry hasn't completed the process.
On the possibility of the USA resuming aid to Pakistan, Austin said relations with Islamabad are linked to the country's cooperation in Afghanistan. "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 India however, he said the USA would also seek to deepen and broaden its defence cooperation through the Quad security dialogue and other regional multilateral engagements with New Delhi.
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.
(With inputs from IANS)