Islamabad/WASHINGTON    -  A top American general has told the country’s lawmakers that US needs to maintain strong military ties with Pakistan.

The statement of the top general has come ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House later this month.

General Milley, President Trump’s nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also warned at his nomination hearing that a premature withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would be a strategic mistake.

“If confirmed as chairman, my objective will be to preserve the defence relationship between the United States and Pakistan even as we press Pakistan to take action on US requests,” Gen Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing in Washington.

“While we have suspended security assistance and paused major defence dialogues, we need to maintain strong military-to-military ties based on our shared interests,” he added.

He said that President Trump’s South Asia Strategy recognises Pakistan as a key partner in achieving US interests in South Asia, including developing a political settlement in Afghanistan; defeating Al-Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan; providing logistical access for US forces; enhancing regional stability.

Responding to another question, Milley said Pakistan has made positive contributions in support of Afghan reconciliation.

The Senate panel had sent him a set of written questions on sensitive issues, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. His responses underlined the need to maintain a defence relationship with Pakistan, the country’s importance as a key strategic partner, Islamabad’s role in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan and the need for Pakistan’s cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

“If confirmed, what changes, if any, would you recommend to US relations with Pakistan, particularly in terms of military-to-military relations and International Military Education and Training?” the committee had asked.

Gen Milley has served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Colombia and is likely to be confirmed without any opposition from either Republican or Democratic lawmakers.

In Afghanistan, he served as the Commanding General, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and Deputy Commanding General, US Forces.

PAKISTAN OPTIMISTIC ABOUT US TIES, QURESHI TELLS PAUL

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi yesterday said that Pakistan was optimistic about the much anticipated meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and US President Donald Trump.

Speaking to Charge d'Affaires of the US Embassy Paul Jones in Islamabad, Qureshi said Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US will “further strengthen bilateral ties between Pakistan and the US.”

“They discussed matters of mutual interest including the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to the US, Pak-US relations, and Afghan peace process,” an official statement said.

Qureshi said Pakistan will continue playing its reconciliatory role in Afghan peace process under collective responsibility.

“Both the sides agreed to continue cooperation on the Afghan peace process, fortifying bilateral relations and achieving shared objectives in the region,” said the statement.

Last day, the US confirmed that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s meeting with President Donald Trump had been fixed officially on July 22.

“President Donald Trump will welcome Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to the White House on July 22,” a White House statement said.

Khan and Trump, it said, will discuss a range of issues, including counter-terrorism, defence, energy and trade with the goal of creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia.

The top-level meeting comes as the US is seeking Pakistan’s help in finding a way out of neighbouring Afghanistan, where American forces are now in their 18th year of war.

Islamabad takes credit for facilitating an ongoing direct peace dialogue between Washington and the Taliban to promote a negotiated end to the Afghan war. The talks began nearly a year ago and a new round is under way in Qatar.

Both Taliban and American negotiators say they have come close to finalizing a draft text that could pave the way for ending the longest overseas US military intervention.