WASHINGTON: The US needs to encourage India and Pakistan to address their tensions in order to reduce the risk of a nuclear war, a top Pentagon official told lawmakers on Wednesday while seeking to restrain Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver stressed that the US must see a change in Pakistan’s behaviour in the areas of greatest concern to America.
“America’s interests are clear: we must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America, we must encourage restraint in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme and prevent nuclear weapons and materials from falling into the hands of terrorists,” Schriver said.
“We must also encourage India and Pakistan to address tensions, in order to reduce the risk of nuclear war,” he said during a Congressional hearing on Afghanistan held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Schriver said during Defence Secretary Jim Mattis’s first trip to Pakistan in December, he engaged directly with Pakistan’s Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa on the objectives of the South Asia Strategy.
Mattis underscored that the US appreciated Pakistan’s significant sacrifices in the war against terrorism, and that Pakistan can play a vital role in working with America and others to facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan.
“Since the announcement of the South Asia Strategy in August, Pakistan has taken some positive steps.
The steps to date, however, do not reflect the type of decisive action that is necessary to restore regional stability,” he said.
He said the Defence department will continue to press Pakistan to make positive changes in its approach, and will provide clear and consistent feedback in response to Islamabad’s action or inaction.
The department of defence wants to ensure that Pakistan has a “bridge back” to enhanced cooperation if it takes decisive action on US requests, the official said.
Schriver said the new South Asia strategy focused primarily on the challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but recognises that addressing these challenges effectively requires a broader regional approach.
It seeks to discourage hedging behaviour by regional states, puts pressure on the Taliban to join a peace process, and emphasises the importance of regional cooperation to reduce the threat of terrorism and nuclear conflict, he said.
“We are in Afghanistan to make America safer, to protect our citizens, and to ensure that Afghanistan and Pakistan do not serve as safe havens from which terrorists can support and launch attacks against our homeland, American citizens, and our allies. Now, more than ever, the US’ vision and leadership must remain clear and steady,” Schriver said.
He said the strategy sought to deliver greater stability in the region by focusing on the region as a whole, and shifting from a time-based approach to one based on conditions on the ground in Afghanistan.
“It is important that we send a strong message to all actors that the United States remains committed to the continued development of the Afghan security forces, and that we are focused on promoting a political settlement that protects the interests of the US, Afghanistan, and our international partners,” the top Pentagon official said.