The goals of US’ military relationship with Pakistan are to improve the capacity of Islamabad to fight terrorist organisations and to enhance the security along its border with Afghanistan, a top American general told lawmakers on Tuesday.
“Our mil-to-mil relations with Pakistan are characterised by maintaining lines of communication between our respective leaders, and conducting specific engagements and providing specific support where it serves US interests,” he said in a written response to a question which were submitted to him before his confirmation hearing. “The goals of our mil-to-mil relationship with Pakistan are to improve their capacity to fight terrorist organisations and to enhance security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, in order to help achieve stability in in this region,” General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in his re-confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Dunford said US President Donald Trump’s new Afghan strategy applies multi-faceted pressure on the Taliban to incentivise them to participate in a peace process that brings about political resolution of the conflict. “I recommend continuing our relations along those broad lines, continually assessing our results and adjusting specific initiatives accordingly,” he said.
The strategy has the objectives of enabling the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) to be able to conduct increased offencive operations and secure more of the population from Taliban influence and control, he said. “The strategic objectives also envision more effective Afghan counter-corruption actions, reduction in Pakistani safe havens, and successful Afghan elections in 2018 and 2019. Indicators of progress longer-term include a decline in violence in Afghanistan, and the Taliban participation in peace talks,” Dunford said.
He said the new Afghan strategy removes restrictions on military authorities and force levels in order to reinforce US’ relationship with Afghan forces in support of a peace process. “Specifically, we’re shifting from a timeline to a condition-based approach, and we are adjusting our authorities to increase the effectives of our train, advise, and assist efforts with the Afghan forces,” he said.
“Key military aspects of our new strategy that differ from previous efforts are the initiatives to enhance Afghan enablers such as the capabilities of the Afghan Air Force and Afghan Special Services Forces and broadening our train, advise and assist efforts,” he added.
Dunford also warned Pakistan of continuing with its policy of providing safe heavens to terrorists. “It’s unacceptable that Pakistan provides sanctuary, and we ought to bring the full weight of the US government and our coalition partners on Pakistan to ensure that they do not provide the sanctuary that they have provided historically to groups like Haqqani and the Taliban,” he said.
During his reconfirmation hearing, Dunford was responding to a question on Pakistan asked by Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Do you believe it’s possible for the United States to achieve its national security objectives in Afghanistan, as long as Pakistan provides support and sanctuary to groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network?” McCain asked. “I do not believe that we can attain our objectives in Afghanistan, Chairman, unless we materially change the behaviour of Pakistan,” Dunford said. “And have you got thoughts on how you do that?” McCain asked. “While it will require a broad approach to do it, I think it’s unacceptable… that Pakistan provides sanctuary,” Dunford responded.