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War of Words Rattles Pakistan’s Ties With US

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Pakistan’s military said Friday the suspension of U.S. assistance will undermine bilateral security cooperation and regional peace efforts but will not deter the Pakistan's counterterrorism resolve.

“Pakistan never fought for money but for peace,” army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor told VOA.

The Trump administration announced Thursday it was suspending hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Pakistan until the latter takes "decisive action" against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.

The militant groups allegedly operate out of Pakistani territory and conduct attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

“Suspension of security assistance will not affect Pakistan’s resolve to fight terrorism; however, it for sure will have an impact on Pakistan-U.S. security cooperation and efforts towards regional peace,” noted General Ghafoor.

Military-led counterterrorism operations, he added, have targeted terrorists “indiscriminately,” including Haqqanis at a “heavy cost of blood and treasure.” There are no more “organized” terrorist sanctuaries inside Pakistan, Ghafoor maintained.

“Casting doubts on our will is not good to our common objective of moving toward enduring peace and stability. Pakistan shall continue its sincere efforts in best interest of Pakistan and peace,” the army spokesman said.

In a separate statement Friday, the Foreign Ministry criticized and dismissed the U.S. move as “arbitrary deadlines” and “unilateral pronouncements.” It asserted that Islamabad has fought the anti-terrorism war “largely” from its financial resources.

The ministry defended Pakistan’s successes in countering regional terrorism and underscored “mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence” for working toward enduring peace.

“Emergence of new and more deadly groups such as Daesh in Afghanistan call for enhancing international cooperation. Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats,” the Pakistani statement said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

FILE - President Donald Trump speaks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Dec. 22, 2017.
FILE - President Donald Trump speaks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Dec. 22, 2017.

The war of words between the two countries was triggered by U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet on Monday in which he threatened to slash funding for Pakistan, accusing it of providing a haven to terrorists and playing U.S. leaders for “fools.”

In his Twitter comments, Trump said Washington has received “nothing but lies and deceits” in return for giving Pakistan more than $33 billion in the last 15 years.

Islamabad denounced the comments as "completely incomprehensible" and reiterated its pledge to work with Washington to fight terrorism and stabilize neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistani leaders say the United States is scapegoating their country for the U.S.'s Afghan “failures.”

A leading opposition politician, Imran Khan, Friday demanded the government categorically refuse to accept any future U.S. assistance in the wake of Trump’s remarks.

Former cricket legend Khan heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which has emerged as a major force on the national political scene in recent years.

While addressing a news conference in Islamabad, the opposition leader praised Pakistani forces for cleansing and securing traditionally volatile tribal areas, including North Waziristan, on the Afghan border. The tribal belt has for years harbored local and foreign militants involved in deadly terrorist attacks on both sides of the border.

“Despite Pakistan clearing up North Waziristan, still half of Afghanistan is in Taliban hands. So, who is responsible for this? To make Pakistan the scapegoat of a failed strategy in Afghanistan is not just a travesty of justice, it is deeply insulting and humiliating for people of Pakistan,” Khan said.

“It’s something which is deliberately being done to fool the people of the United States. We stand to lose the most if Afghanistan is destabilized,” he added.

In this Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, photo, Pakistan's opposition leader Imran Khan, center, speaks to the media in Islamabad, Pakistan.
In this Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, photo, Pakistan's opposition leader Imran Khan, center, speaks to the media in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Pakistan’s reluctance to undertake counterterrorism operations in the Waziristan region had been a major irritant in relations with the U.S. The area was believed to be a training ground for Taliban and Haqqani militants.

Army officials, however, say a major ground and air offensive in North Waziristan in June 2014 has since uprooted all terrorism infrastructure and secured more than 95 percent of the territory.

Pakistani officials maintain they have received $14 billion in funding allocated to undertake security operations in support of coalition actions in Afghanistan. Islamabad says Washington still owes it $9 billion.

Even critics in the United States are questioning the Trump administration’s move to cut security assistance to Pakistan. Former State Department official Shamila Chaudhry notes the security assistance to Pakistan directly pays for sales of U.S. military equipment, training of the Pakistani military and indirectly for moving material for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan through Pakistani air and ground routes.

“Does US still need Pakistani routes for war in Afghanistan?” Chaudhry asked in comments she posted on her official Twitter account.

She went on to recall that when Pakistan closed the communication lines in the past, the U.S. used routes known as the “Northern Distribution Network — but ultimately it was too expensive & involved dealing with a difficult Russia.”

Chaudhry apparently was referring to the months-long closure by Pakistan of NATO supply lines in 2011 in reaction to U.S. airstrikes that mistakenly hit and killed 24 Pakistani border forces.

Islamabad restored the supply lines only after Washington submitted a formal apology.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, in an interview with the local Geo News television, said the U.S. was "now neither a friend nor ally but a friend who always betrays." He went on to say that Islamabad will have to review its ties to Washington and to strengthen relations with key regional patterns, including China, Iran and Russia.