Washington: The Pakistan leadership has indicated that there is a willingness to conduct military operations in the country's restive northwest against terrorists, including the dreaded Haqqani network, if negotiations fail, a top Pentagon commander has said.
"The (Pakistan) leadership indicated that there is a willingness to conduct operations in North Waziristan if they can't resolve things through negotiations, and the Haqqani network would clearly be a part of that," said General Lloyd Austin, Commander of US Central Command, who was recently in Pakistan.
"I was just recently in Pakistan and met with the new chief of staff of the army and the chairman of their Joint Chiefs of Staff and also secretary of defence. They have indicated that they would work with us to counter the actions of the Haqqani network, and so I'm encouraged by the new leadership that's on board there," Austin told Senators during a Congressional hearing.
"I hope it's true. It's long overdue," Senator Carl Levin said as Austin responded to his question. "Relative to recent events, has the Pakistan military indicated any willingness to you or as far as you know, have they indicated to people that you have confidence in that they are willing to go after those extremists, including the Haqqani network?" the Senator had asked.
Responding to another question, General Austin said he is very encouraged by the new military leadership in Pakistan. "I recently met with the chief of the army, the chairman of the joint chiefs, and again, I think they want a relationship going forward that's more than transactional," he said. "I think they want a long-term, good relationship -- at least from the military side of the house, that's what I get. I think they're sincere about it. And so I am very encouraged by what I'm listening to and some of what I'm seeing," Austin said. "Now, jury's still out -- we have a long way to go -- but I think our relationship is trending positive in a number of areas," he said.
Austin said the Pakistan Army is concerned about having a well-equipped force "on their border (in Afghanistan) that is losing control, losing oversight, losing leadership." "And so what the future of that could possibly bring is very, very troubling for them. And so you would expect that they would begin to hedge a bit more to protect themselves along their borders," he said.
During the Congressional hearing Senator Levin expressed concern over continued existence of madrasas, which preach hatred. "Those madrasas in Pakistan that produce the extremists that attacked us or helped to provide a safe haven in Pakistan -- those madrasas are funded by some very well-heeled, wealthy elements that have an extreme ideology," he said.
Austin said he agreed with the assessment of the Senator. "You know, this activity requires money, to your point, and lots of money. And to better understand the activity, you have to be able to follow the money. So it, therefore, requires a whole-of-government approach," he said.
"I am encouraged by what I am hearing and seeing that there is an interest on the part of the Pakistani government to have better control over what's being taught in the madrasas. And I think that is a positive step going forward that'll help to get after this," the general said.