Biden administration plans to continue promoting the Indo-US defense partnership, Defense Secretary nominee has told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Retired General Lloyd Austin, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, “If confirmed, my overarching objective for our defense relationship with India would be to continue elevating the partnership”. Retired General Llyod Austin has been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden, as his Defense Secretary.

He said he would also seek to intensify and broaden the defense cooperation between India and the US through the Quad security dialogue and other regional multilateral engagements. “I would further operationalize India’s ‘Major Defense Partner’ status and continue to build upon existing strong defense cooperation to ensure the US and Indian militaries can collaborate to address shared interests,” Austin said in response to a question submitted before his confirmation hearing.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, Austin said his understanding is that Pakistan has taken constructive and encouraging steps to meet US requests in support of the Afghanistan peace process. Pakistan has also taken measures against anti-Indian groups, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, although this progress is incomplete, he said.

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“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,” Austin said. In 2018, President Donald Trump had suspended all the financial and security aid to Pakistan, recognizing a lack of cooperation from Pakistan in the fight against terrorism.

Observing that Pakistan is an essential ally in any peace process in Afghanistan, Austin said that if confirmed, he will encourage a regional approach that amasses support from neighbors like Pakistan, while also deterring dissuading any spoilers to the Afghanistan peace process. “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.

Austin said he will focus on shared interests which include training future Pakistan military leaders through the use of International Military Education and Training funds as well as persuade Pakistan to prevent its territory from being used as a refuge for militants and violent extremist organizations.

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