WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s administration has been informing members of Congress that it will announce as soon as Thursday its plans to cut off “security assistance” to Pakistan, congressional aides said Wednesday, a day after the White House warned Islamabad it would have to do more to maintain US aid.
Aides in two congressional offices said the State Department called on Wednesday to inform them that it would announce Wednesday or Thursday that aid was being cut off, although it was not clear how much, what type or for how long.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders declined to say whether an announcement was imminent. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The calls to Capitol Hill came a day after Washington accused Pakistan of playing a “double game” on fighting terrorism and warned Islamabad it would have to do more if it wanted to maintain US aid.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Tuesday that Washington would withhold $255 million in assistance to Pakistan.
Haley’s statement followed an angry tweet from Trump on Monday that the US had been rewarded with “nothing but lies and deceit” for giving Pakistan billions in aid.
Pakistan civilian and military chiefs rejected what they termed “incomprehensible” US comments and summoned US Ambassador David Hale to explain Trump’s tweet.
‘No amount of coercion can dictate us’
No amount of compulsion can pressurise Pakistan on how to continue, Major General Asif Ghafoor — the Director-General (DG) Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) — said while speaking Wednesday night (Pakistan time) on Geo News’ programme Capital Talk about the recent strategic developments.
The military spokesperson was responding to the US withholding aid worth $255 million to Pakistan following Trump’s tweet, wherein the latter said the US had foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in financial assistance over the past 15 years.
“No amount of coercion can dictate us how to continue,” he said. “We wish to move forward through cooperative engagement but will not compromise on self-respect and dignity.”
“Pakistan had made alternate arrangements in advance,” the spokesperson said, adding that the US’ decision to stop aid would not affect the nation’s financial requirements.
‘Stop blaming others’
In addition, Maleeha Lodhi — Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations (UN) — set the record straight after her American counterpart Nikki Haley made incendiary remarks Tuesday night against Pakistan.
Islamabad’s cooperation with Washington was not based on any aid consideration, but “our national interests and principles”, Lodhi said, adding that the US “can review our cooperation if it is not appreciated”.
“We have contributed and sacrificed the most in fighting international terrorism and carried out the largest counter-terrorism operation anywhere in the world,” Lodhi had asserted.
Relations between Islamabad and Washington have been strained for years over Pakistan’s alleged support for the Haqqani network extremists — who are allied with the Afghan Taliban — and turned sour after Trump announced the strategic policy for South Asia back in August 2017.
In his first-ever televised speech to the United States, Trump had disclosed his long-awaited strategy for South Asia — especially Afghanistan — as he put his own touch to the nation’s longest war.
The American head-of-state had accused Pakistan and its leadership for providing safe havens and sanctuaries for terrorist elements and urged the nation to “do more” to prevent it.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time [when]they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said, warning that the vital aid the US offers to the country could be cut.
“That will have to change and that will change immediately.”
In response, the Pakistan Army had brushed off speculation that Trump’s new strategy could include taking a stronger line against Islamabad, insisting the country has done all it can to tackle militancy.
“Let it come,” army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor had told reporters, referring to Trump’s decision. “Even if it comes… Pakistan shall do whatever is best in the national interest.”
The US also alleges that senior Afghan Taliban commanders live on Pakistani soil and had signalled it will cut aid and take other steps if Islamabad does not stop helping or turning a blind eye to Haqqani militants crossing the border to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.
Then, in October, Trump had surprisingly said he wanted to express his gratitude to Pakistan and its leadership for their “cooperation” — something that came as a stark contrast to his scathing comments two months prior.
Trump had reasoned that the US is “starting to develop a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders”.
But then, US Vice President Mike Pence — in his unannounced, December 22 visit to Afghanistan — had issued an apparent warning to Pakistan, saying it “has much to gain from partnering with our efforts in Afghanistan”.
“The days to shelter terrorists have gone. It has much to lose by continuing to harbour terrorists,” he had stressed, adding that Trump has “put Pakistan on notice for providing safe haven” to the terrorists on its soil.
“For too long Pakistan has provided safe haven to the Taliban and many terrorist organisations, but those days are over. President Trump has put Pakistan on notice,” Pence had told American troops at the Bagram Airfield.
Many members of the US Congress — particularly Republicans, who control both houses of the legislature — have been critical of the Pakistani government and called for cuts in military and other aid.