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US general calls for maintaining military ties with Pakistan

Updated July 12, 2019

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US Army Gen Mark Milley testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Capitol Hill in Washington, US on July 11. — Reuters
US Army Gen Mark Milley testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Capitol Hill in Washington, US on July 11. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: The future US military chief said on Thursday that the United States needs to maintain strong military-to-military ties with Pakistan, based on the shared interests of the two countries.

Gen Mark Milley, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also warned at his nomination hearing that a premature withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would be a strategic mistake.

“If confirmed as chairman, my objective will be to preserve the defence relationship between the United States and Pakistan even as we press Pakistan to take action on US requests,” Gen Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing in Washington.

“While we have suspended security assistance and paused major defence dialogues, we need to maintain strong military-to- military ties based on our shared interests,” he added.

Read: White House confirms July 22 meeting between PM Imran, US President Trump

The statement, coming 10 days before Imran Khan’s first visit to Washington as prime minister, underlines a key element of the US-Pakistan relationship, the long, and once, close partnership between the two militaries.

It also highlights Pakistan’s support to the Afghan reconciliation process and hints at the role Islamabad played in persuading Taliban leaders to join talks with US in Doha. Pakistan is also believed to have cooperated with the United States in arranging an intra-Afghan dialogue, held in Doha earlier this week.

“I think pulling out prematurely would be a strategic mistake,” the general added while responding to a question about Afghanistan from one of the senators.

Gen Milley, currently the Army’s Chief of Staff, has served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Colombia and is likely to be confirmed without any opposition from either Republican or Democratic lawmakers.

In Afghanistan, he served as the Commanding General, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and Deputy Commanding General, US Forces.

The Senate panel had sent him a set of written questions on sensitive issues, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. His responses underlined the need to maintain a defence relationship with Pakistan, the country’s importance as a key strategic partner, Islamabad’s role in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan and the need for Pakistan’s cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

“If confirmed, what changes, if any, would you recommend to US relations with Pakistan, particularly in terms of military-to-military relations and International Military Education and Training?” the committee asked. Gen Milley pointed out that President Trump’s South Asia strategy recognised Pakistan as “a key partner in achieving US interests in South Asia, including developing a political settlement in Afghanistan; defeating Al Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan; providing logistical access for US forces; and enhancing regional stability”.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2019