Pakistan says US treats it like a ‘whipping boy’ after losing US$900m in aid
Pakistan has said it is being treated like a “whipping boy” and has no alliance with the US after Washington suspended at least US$900m (HK$7b) in security assistance to the country for failing to take “decisive action” against terrorist networks.
“We do not have any alliance” with the US, said Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s foreign minister, in an interview with Geo TV on Friday. “This is not how allies behave.”
Asif had described Washington in a TV interview the previous day as “a friend who always betrays”.
The country also denounced the decision as “counterproductive” in a more carefully worded written response on Friday.
The United States has been threatening for months to cut aid to Islamabad over its failure to crack down on groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, which it says operates from bases in Pakistan’s northwest.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said enduring peace required “mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence”.
It added: “Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats.”
The rhetoric has raised hackles in Islamabad and fears the row could undermine Pakistan’s support for US operations in Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the State Department announced a dramatic freeze in deliveries of military equipment and security funding until Pakistan cracks down on the militants.
The announcement ignited some small protests in Pakistan on Friday, including in Chaman, one of the two main crossings on the border with Afghanistan where several hundred people gathered to chant anti-US slogans.
Nuzhat Sadiq, a senior legislator who chairs the Senate foreign affairs committee, said the US move was “not good for its policy against terrorism and for a lasting peace in this region”.
She said Pakistan could manage without US help, as it had in the 1990s, but preferred to put the relationship back on track. Pakistan had always “played a vital role in the war on terror”, she said.
Imran Khan, the former cricketer turned key opposition leader, said the US was trying to scapegoat Pakistan for the former’s failures in Afghanistan and called for the two countries to be “delinked”.
“We don’t need any type of aid. Almighty Allah is with us and he is giving us everything,” protester Mohammad Saleem said, adding that he had a message for Donald Trump: “Don’t threaten us.”
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it was “engaged” with US officials and awaiting further details.
Emerging threats such as the growing presence of Islamic State in the region make cooperation more important than ever, it added.
Pakistan has fought fierce campaigns against home-grown Islamist groups, and says it has lost thousands of lives and spent billions of dollars in its long war on extremism.
But US officials accuse Islamabad of ignoring or even collaborating with groups that attack Afghanistan from safe havens along the border between the two countries.
In September last year, the US suspended US$255 million in funding to help Pakistan buy hi-tech weaponry from American manufacturers.
Now, the Defence Department has been instructed to stop making payments from “coalition support funds” set aside to refund Pakistani spending on counterterrorist operations.
There will be exemptions, and officials refused to put a figure on how much Pakistan will lose out on if it fails to cooperate.
But the National Defence Authorisation Act permits the US military to spend up to US$900 million in the 2017 financial year and US$700 million in financial 2018.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the security spending would be suspended until Pakistan takes “decisive action” against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.
The move, which US officials had hinted at for months, was greeted optimistically in Afghanistan.
“We have been saying for years that neighbouring Pakistan is providing safe haven to terrorist groups, and they were also funding the terrorist groups,” Nasrat Rahim, deputy interior ministry spokesman, told reporters in Kabul. “We welcome this announcement.”
Privately, US diplomats insist the relationship is not in crisis.
They say Pakistan is not refusing to fight the Haqqani network, but that the two capitals disagree about the facts on the ground.
Pakistan insists safe havens have been eradicated, but US intelligence says it is still seeing militants operating freely.
With additional reporting by The Guardian