James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general nominated to be the next U.S. defense secretary, plans to provide incentives to Islamabad to go against militant groups operating from its soil.
“I will work with the State Department and the Congress to incentivize Pakistan’s cooperation on issues critical to our interests and the region’s security,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 12, “with a focus on Pakistan’s need to expel or neutralize externally focused militant groups that operate within its borders.”
During his confirmation hearing, Mattis emphasized building trust with Pakistan for effective cooperation but didn’t shy away from pointing out Islamabad’s lapses in fighting or even supporting a range of Islamist extremist organizations often blamed for attacks in neighboring India and Afghanistan.
“In particular, we should be aware of any behavior that supports Pakistan-based militant groups,” Mattis noted. “Conditioning our security assistance has a mixed history in the case of Pakistan.”
Washington has given more than $20 billion in aid to Pakistan. While most of the U.S. funding was focused on security and support for the war in neighboring Afghanistan, Western and Afghan officials have consistently blamed Islamabad for sheltering and supporting the Afghan Taliban and allied groups. India, Pakistan’s neighbor and archrival, also accuses Islamabad of turning a blind eye to groups launching attacks inside its territory.
Mattis, 66, is aware of such complications. He led the Marines in Afghanistan in 2001 and later led the U.S. Joint Forces Command. At the height of his military career, he oversaw the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as the head of U.S. Central Command. His long engagement with Afghanistan have given him deep insights into the country’s complicated war, which is now the longest war in U.S. history.
During his confirmation hearing, Mattis was adamant about pushing for an end to all Pakistani support for the Taliban. He said safe havens and freedom of movement by the Afghan Taliban and other militant networks is a “key operational issue” faced by Afghan forces.
“We should urge Pakistan to take further actions against the Taliban and the Haqqani network,” he said. “States in the region should increase pressure on the Afghan Taliban and associated militant networks to stop their campaigns of violence in Afghanistan.”
Known as "Mad Dog" in U.S. military circles for his candid manner, Mattis is expected to be confirmed.
During his three-hour hearing, Mattis called for cultivating and strengthening security alliances, particularly support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.