In a rare comment before the Senate Armed Services’ Committee on March 8, General Joseph Votel, Commander U.S. Central Command, singled out “India’s public policy to ‘diplomatically isolate’ Pakistan “as detrimental to easing tensions between the two countries.
“India’s public policy to ‘diplomatically isolate’ Pakistan hinders any prospects for improved relations,” Votel said at a hearing on the US Central Command before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Under pressure from New Delhi, five other members of the South Asian Regional Cooperation (SAARC) had refused to attend the organization’s annual summit to be held at Islamabad in December last year.
“This is especially troubling as a significant conventional conflict between Pakistan and India could escalate into a nuclear exchange, given that India remains concerned about the lack of action against India-focused militants based in Pakistan.”
“[India] responded militarily to terrorist attacks in India-held territory earlier this year. These types of attacks and the potential reactions, increase the likelihood for miscalculation by both countries.”
The US general said that the requirement for an increased attention on Pakistan’s eastern border “detracts from its efforts to secure the western border with Afghanistan from incursion by Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.”
“Security along the western border will nevertheless remain a priority for Islamabad, as the Pakistani military seeks to expand border control and improve paramilitary security,” General Votel added.
The Centcom commander also reiterated earlier claims that that seven of the 20 US-designated terrorist organisations operate in the Pak-Afghan sub-region and that a significant number of them are in Pakistan.
Despite recent constraints in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the top US general appreciated “promising coordination” between militaries of the two countries.
General Votel reiterated that Pak-US relationship “remains a very important one”. “We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Pakistani military leadership, to include the new Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa in the days ahead as we work together in pursuit of shared interests,” he said.
The US general maintained that new US government was encouraged by the military operation Radd-ul-Fasaad “in which they set up simultaneous multiple blocking positions along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in order to reinforce ANDSF efforts to disrupt Islamic State-Khorasan activities.”
General Votel’s also sounded positive on his country’s future engagement with Pakistan, even though bilateral ties recently have not been as smooth as they were during Obama’s term as President.
The political and military leadership in Islamabad – in Post-Obama USA – is still waiting on a clear policy focus from Washington towards Islamabad. Thus, statements of engagement and inclusion coming from the military leadership of USA sound positive omens for Pakistan.