WASHINGTON  - Head of US Central Command Gen Lloyd Austin has said that he is very encouraged by the sincerity of new military leadership in Pakistan in preserving a long-term relationship with Washington, reported Politico on Thursday.

Gen Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Afghanistan would begin to deteriorate quickly after a total withdrawal of US military forces, the top American commander in the Middle East warned Thursday, also cautioning senators about the postwar shock waves that could shake the region.

He said the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) would begin to worsen and weaken very soon if all American troops came home in December, and that a nervous Pakistan to the south might respond to its fear of instability with potentially destructive consequences.

“Without our fiscal support and certainly without our mentorship, we’d see, immediately, a much less effective ANSF,” Austin said. “Over the long term, we could possibly see a fracturing of that force. I would go further to say it would be problematic for the region … very quickly, [we would see] hedging activity as each of the countries in the sub-region really moved to protect their interests. That would be somewhat destabilising for the region as a whole.”

Austin also reminded senators of the risks involved if Pakistan believes the US will abandon the ANSF, which Islamabad views as a potential hornet’s nest that could cross its porous border and take up with the terrorist groups of its northern districts.

“A well-equipped force on their border that is losing control, losing oversight, losing leaders … is very, very troubling for them,” Austin said. Letting that happen, he said, would squander an opportunity the US has now to deal with new military leaders in Pakistan who are interested in preserving a long-term relationship with Washington.

“I am very encouraged by the new military leadership in Pakistan,” Austin said. “From the military side of the house — that’s what I get — I think they’re sincere about it. I’m very encouraged by what I’m listening to and some of what I’m seeing. The jury’s still out, we have a long way to go, but our relationship is trending positive in a number of directions.”

Even keeping a post-2014 force, however, would not solve the larger strategic problem of international terrorism, however. Under questioning from Sen. August King (I-Maine), Austin and Gen. David Rodriguez of US Africa Command said that the US and allies still had a much larger job in order to make progress against the basic threat of al-Qaeda.