WASHINGTON, Jan 31: The United States and Pakistan should have a more realistic and pragmatic approach to their military-to-military relationship, says US defence secretary nominee Chuck Hagel.
In an opening statement at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Senator Hagel also said that the mission of US forces in Afghanistan after 2014 should be restricted to counter-terrorism and training Afghan security forces.
The future US defence secretary noted that ties between the US and Pakistani militaries had been marked by periodic ups and downs and that’s why they must be redefined. “In my view, the military-to-military relationship should be underlined by a realistic, pragmatic approach,” he said, “enhancing those areas of cooperation that are dictated by our common interests and to ensuring accountability for actions that detract from these interests.”
Mr Hagel added that if confirmed, he would make accomplishing that goal a priority.
The questions the Senate committee submitted to Mr Hagel and the answers prepared for him by the Pentagon reflect US views on some of the key issues confronting Pakistan.
Mr Hagel said the US assistance to Pakistan should not be unconditional. At the same time, any conditions should be carefully examined to ensure they advance US strategic interests.
When asked that in his view, how effective has the assistance and other support that the United States has provided to Pakistan been in promoting US interests?
Mr Hagel said more terrorists had been killed in Pakistan than anywhere else since 9/11 and that would not be possible without Pakistani cooperation. “Security assistance for Pakistan has helped Pakistan press this campaign against the militant and terrorist networks that threaten us all. If confirmed, I will work to ensure that our security assistance and other support to Pakistan both serve US interests and is cost effective.”
In his view committee asked him, what should be the role of Afghanistan’s neighbours, in particular Pakistan, in the reconciliation process?
Mr Hagel said Afghanistan's neighbours should support an Afghan-led process. “Each will benefit from improved stability in Afghanistan or potentially suffer from continued violence. Pakistan and other neighbours should work forthrightly with Afghanistan to mitigate any suspicions or misunderstandings.”
Mr Hagel aid he believed the US and Pakistan shared common interests in disrupting, dismantling, and defeating Al Qaeda, and in long-term regional stability, including a durable political settlement in Afghanistan and the safety and security of the Indian Ocean.
When asked in what areas did he see US and Pakistani strategic interests diverging?
Mr Hagel said the US and Pakistan often diverged over Pakistan’s approach to the militant and terrorist networks that operated in Pakistan's territory and did not overtly threaten the Pakistani state.
“However, in my view, these networks threaten Pakistani stability, endanger the prospects for a settlement in Afghanistan, and undermine regional stability — so that in fact, while the relationship is challenging, I believe our long-term strategic interests are in alignment.”
Mr Hagel, a two-time senator from Nebraska, has been nominated by the US President Barack Obama as his next Defence Secretary. If confirmed by the Senate, he would replace Leon Panetta as the Defence Secretary.