Pakistan is rife with uncertainty and speculation on steps the United States may possibly take in the wake of President Donald Trump’s New Year’s Day tweet about slashing the country’s aid for treating U.S. leaders “as fools” and giving safe haven to the terrorists battling American forces in Afghanistan.
Islamabad denounced the comments as “completely incomprehensible” and has reiterated its resolve to work together with Washington to fight terrorism and stabilize Afghanistan. Pakistani leaders insist the United States is scapegoating their country for its Afghan “failures.”
However, Trump’s twitter outburst has set off a war of words, fueling concerns about a breakdown in historically fragile relations between the United States and Pakistan.
Pakistani ambassador to Washington, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, while speaking to VOA, called for the two countries to remain engaged with each other and avoid steps that could create tensions and destabilize the region.
“We should not be on the collision course. That’s the point we want to make because, I think, if we move in that direction both countries will drift apart and I do not think that it is in the interest of either state to drift apart. I think we have got to find ways, more creative ways to build each other’s trust to work together. That’s the direction that we think that we should be going to,” noted Chaudhry.
He said national security forces have cleared Pakistani soil of all terrorist groups and recalled Islamabad’s “unmatched” contribution in U.S.-led international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and promote a peaceful settlement of the conflict there.
“Pakistan has also facilitated the U.S and worked together with it to decimate al-Qaida. If you do not hear about al-Qaida today it is because we worked together to a successful end. Pakistan has been providing lines of communications to the U.S. for a long time. It is a partnership to us and it should be measured not in terms of money and monetary value but in terms of the results that we have achieved together,” said Chaudhry.
He urged the U.S. administration to focus on addressing the issues of governance, corruption, deteriorating security, emergency of Islamic State in Afghanistan, saying ungoverned spaces in the neighboring country are threatening security in Pakistan and the region in general.
“So, all these are matters of concern for us because we are suffering because of this and that’s why we have been saying many a times that look you need to address those issues and not place the blame on Pakistan’s doorsteps for all the failure in Afghanistan,” he said.
The Trump administration has promised to soon announce more punitive measures to follow up on the president’s twitter comments.
There is wide speculation that Pakistani security officials allegedly tied to terrorist groups could face sanctions and the U.S. military may undertake unilateral strikes deep inside Pakistan to target terrorists linked to the Taliban-allied Haqqan Network, or HQN. The network is allegedly tied to the ISI, the Pakistani spy agency.
“In case of U.S. action against Pakistan, it will be responded to the aspiration of people of Pakistan,” said army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor.
The general was responding to widespread speculations the U.S. may stage a unilateral military strike against suspected terrorist sanctuaries linked to the HQN.
“We have taken action against HQN. Effects of the action against HQN will be visible in due time,” Ghafoor insisted.
The army spokesman complained the presence of around 2.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan hampers counterterrorism efforts because the displaced population serves as a hideout for insurgents fighting on the Afghan side.
Pakistani officials have been pressing the United States and its allies to arrange for the refugees to go back to their country as soon as possible.
On Wednesday, the federal cabinet granted only a one month extension to the legal residency status of 1.4 million documented Afghan refugees, saying Pakistan can no longer sustain their burden under the circumstances. The rest of the refugees are undocumented economic migrants. Analysts see the mere 30 day extensions a fallout of President Trump’s criticism of Islamabad and an attempt to pressure Washington.
A national security committee of the parliament also held an urgent meeting Thursday, where leaders of major political parties were briefed by the foreign and defense ministers on the emerging situation following Trump’s criticism.
Pakistani civilian and military leaders have also said Trump’s figures of giving more than $33 billion to Islamabad since 2002 to help fight terrorism are wrong.
Officials say that almost $14 billon of the amount in question was part of the Coalition Support Fund (CLF), which was reimbursement for the money Pakistan was spending on security operations in support of coalition efforts in Afghanistan. The Pakistan government says the total amount billed under CLF has been about $22 billion and Washington still owes Islamabad $8 billion.
Pakistan also maintains it has lost around 70,000 lives, mostly civilians in terrorist attacks it has faced since joining the U.S. counter terrorism coalition and the national economy has also suffered losses of over $120 billion.