James Mattis, president-elect Donald Trump’s pick for defence secretary, has said the US should continue to pursue a long-term strategic relationship with India, which will play a key role in security in the Asia-Pacific region with its “Act East” policy.
The retired Marine Corps general said the India-US relationship is “of the utmost importance”. He said if he was confirmed by the Senate, he would assess particular areas in the security relationship with India to focus on and steps that can be taken to “bolster the overall defence relationship”.
Mattis, 66, made the remarks in responses to advance questions at a hearing of the US Senate committee on armed services on Thursday.
“In my view, and particularly on security and defence issues, the US-India relationship has been strengthened in recent years. Cooperation on defence trade and technology has grown to the benefit of both countries under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative,” he said.
“I also believe that India’s ‘Act East’ policy allows it to play a greater role in contributing to security in the Asia-Pacific region.” He also noted that the US had cemented India’s status as a Major Defense Partner.
While responding to questions about US-Pakistan relations, Mattis said he believed Islamabad needs to do more to counter the Taliban and the Haqqani Network in order for the security situation in Afghanistan to improve.
Though Pakistan had learned some “hard lessons” from its dealings with the Afghan Taliban, “sanctuary and freedom of movement for the Afghan Taliban and associated militant networks inside Pakistani territory is a key operational issue” for Afghan security forces, he said.
Mattis, who led the US Central Command during 2010-13, said Pakistan should do more to collaborate with Afghanistan. “We should urge Pakistan to take further actions against the Taliban and the Haqqani Network,” he added.
He acknowledged that the military-to-military relationship with Pakistan has had “highs and lows” and the US has “long faced a lack of trust within the Pakistani military and government about our goals in the region”. Mattis said he would focus on building trust needed for an effective partnership.
Asked if he would support attaching more conditions to US military aid to Pakistan, Mattis replied that such steps have had a “mixed history” and that he would review all options with a focus on “Pakistan’s need to expel or neutralise externally-focused militant groups that operate within its borders”.