Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the nomination of William E. Todd to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. The post has been vacant since former Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale completed his tenure in 2018. In the interim, Ambassador Paul Jones has served as U.S. Charge d’Affaires.
In his opening remarks, committee ranking member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) raised his concerns about what he called “significant challenges” in the US-Pakistan relationship such as the “stubborn presence of terrorist groups” in Pakistan and that country’s “tensions with India.”
“I remain deeply concerned about the prevalence of terrorist groups in the country and their impact on the region. Progress has been made, but Pakistan must take further action to address this insidious threat, especially Lashkar-e-Taiba. For too long this group has been able to operate in different forms over the years. If Pakistan wants us to take its counter-terrorism commitments seriously, it must completely eradicate this group,” stated Senator Menendez.
In his submitted remarks to the committee, Ambassador Todd outlined his three goals for his upcoming tenure: 1) advancing human rights, particularly freedom of religion and expression; 2) increased bilateral trade and investment; and 3) and expanding youth engagement. He further discussed tensions in the region and the role of the U.S., stating that “although we have a strong relationship with India, that does not need to come at the expense of Pakistan. I believe that under the right conditions, we can have a strong relationship with both countries. Our hope is that both countries will take the necessary steps to reduce tensions, and as President Trump has offered, we are prepared to facilitate dialogue if both sides request it.”
Ambassador Todd directly addressed Pakistan’s well documented, decades-long record of financing and sponsoring terrorism. “To truly reduce regional tensions, and rebuild a strong relationship with the United States, Pakistan must take sustained and irreversible action against terrorism,” Todd said. “Pakistan has suffered terribly itself at the hands of terrorists and has committed publicly to ensure terrorists cannot use Pakistani territory to operate. Pakistan has taken important steps toward fulfilling that commitment but needs to continue that work. If confirmed, I will work with Pakistan to advance our shared interest in eliminating terrorism from its territory and advancing security in the region.”
Todd raised the spectre of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile and the threat of those weapons falling into the hands of terrorists that Pakistan sponsors. “Pakistan needs to demonstrate it is prepared to live up to international commitments on weapons of mass destruction,” Todd said.
Senator Menendez raised the issue of terrorism again during the question and answer period of the hearing when he asked Ambassador Todd, “How will you use your tools at your disposal to encourage Pakistan to take real action against Lashkar-e-Taiba and its leadership?” Todd reiterated,“I will continue to press Pakistan to take sustained irreversible action against terrorists.”
The persecution of Hindus and other religious minorities in Pakistan as well as Pakistan’s state sponsorship of terrorism has been continually raised by the Hindu American Foundation and members of Congress. In December 2019, then Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells wrote a letter responding to the Hindu American Foundation regarding the persecution of Hindus and other religious minorities in Pakistan. “On behalf of Secretary Pompeo, I want to assure you we share your concerns regarding these important issues and consistently prioritize them in our engagements with the Pakistani government. The United States is dedicated to promoting international human rights standards and the freedoms for religious minorities across the globe,” then-Secretary Wells wrote.
Seven of the committee’s twenty-two members were present for the nomination hearing. Senators will have several days to submit additional questions to Ambassador Todd for the record and it is expected that questions of concern to the Hindu American community will be included.
Todd is a career foreign service officer with over 20 years at the Department of State. He most recently served as Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs and previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, U.S. Ambassador to Brunei, and was previously stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Ambassador Todd’s opening remarks are available here.
Here is a transcript of opening remarks from Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as delivered during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Nominations Hearing on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 on the nomination of William E. Todd to be U.S. Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.