WASHINGTON - US Ambassador-designate to Pakistan David Hale told his confirmation hearing at a Congressional panel on Wednesday that he would work closely with Pakistani leaders towards further strengthening Washington-Islamabad relations.

Hale, who will replace Ambassador Richard Olson, is a career foreign service officer with extensive experience in Middle East diplomacy. Pakistan, he said,  is a strategically important country for achieving US national security interests.

“We have a strong stake in Pakistan’s ability to combat militancy and strengthen its democratic institutions,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He listed four core US interests in Pakistan: first, defeating al-Qaeda and countering militancy; second, non-proliferation and nuclear security; third, political and economic stability which includes respect for human rights; and fourth, regional stability, including improved relations with Afghanistan and India. “While there is more to be done on all fronts, the last few years have witnessed progress toward these goals as the United States and Pakistan have built a more stable, forthright relationship.”

About counterterrorism measures, Dale noted, “Pakistan has taken important actions that have brought to justice several senior al-Qaeda leaders.”

“It launched a significant military operation in North Waziristan last June, capturing large weapons caches and closing safe havens for multiple terrorist groups. We welcome Pakistan’s commitment to target all militant groups on Pakistani soil equally – an objective that is absolutely in the interests of the United States,” Hale said in his opening statement, and vowed to work closely with Islamabad toward the objective."

Referring to the ISIS threat, Dale said, “We and the Pakistanis also share deep concern and must remain vigilant for any sign that ISIL is gaining a foothold in Pakistan.” The US, he said, is actively engaged with Pakistan on strategic stability and non-proliferation issues and is pleased that Pakistan is fully engaged with the international community on nuclear safety and security issues.

Pakistan is an often boisterous democracy of nearly 200 million people with a growing economy, he said. In 2013, it completed its first democratic transition from one elected civilian government to another.

“The Government of Pakistan has made real strides in unlocking Pakistan’s growth potential, and is working to advance an economic reform programme in close collaboration with the International Monetary Fund. Just last week, Moody’s recognised the government’s progress by raising its sovereign credit rating. Still, there is work to be done. Rule of law, tolerance, and respect for the rights of all citizens are guiding principles for all thriving democracies.”

Turning to Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours, he said, these play an important part in Pakistan’s security and prosperity.

“Pakistan has undertaken important outreach to Afghanistan following the Afghan election, and the two countries have made some progress against terrorist safe havens on both sides of the border. Given the drawdown in US forces in Afghanistan, it is all the more critical that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan be strong and cooperative, and that Pakistan continue to put pressure on the Taliban to join an Afghan-led peace process.”

“Pakistan’s relationship with India is critical to Pakistan’s future. The normalisation of relations between the two countries is vital, both to them and to the region.”

He said “sustained, consistent engagement with Pakistan provides us with the best chance to address challenges and advance our core interests.”

“US civilian assistance to Pakistan has delivered impressive results and must continue. Our signature projects in Pakistan have added over 1,500 megawatts to Pakistan’s electric grid, and built over 1,100 kilometers of roads.

Each year, the United States sponsors thousands of Pakistani exchange students to the United States – including a larger investment in the Fulbright Programme than anywhere else in the world.

These are long term investments which advance bilateral people to people exchanges, Pakistan’s stability and growth, and help promote a pluralistic and tolerant society.”

“US security assistance to Pakistan is equally important and is directly supporting Pakistan’s ability to conduct counter-insurgency operations, clear terrorist safe havens, and stem the flow of deadly improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which have killed far too many civilians and security personnel. Our security assistance, like our civilian assistance, is geared directly toward meeting critical US national security objectives.”