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Pakistan Official Warns Alliance With U.S. Is Over -- WSJ

6 Jan 2018 7:32 am
By Saeed Shah 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (January 6, 2018).

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's foreign minister on Friday said he sees his country's alliance with Washington as over after the Trump administration announced the suspension of U.S. security-related aid to Pakistan.

"We do not have any alliance" with the U.S., Khawaja Muhammad Asif said in an interview Friday. "This is not how allies behave."

The foreign minister's statement further ratcheted up an increasingly tense exchange in the past week between the two countries, which have maintained a rocky antiterror collaboration since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Those ties have frayed but not broken despite differences over Afghanistan, India and the 2011 U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, which was undertaken without Islamabad's prior knowledge.

In that fraught context, the two countries' relations appeared likely to continue in a grudging, distrustful way, given that Washington and Islamabad haven't taken more drastic steps or moved to actually dissolve the bulk of their complex ties.

For Washington, jettisoning support for a longtime nuclear-armed ally in a strategic location isn't easy. For its part, Pakistan fears a full break could lead the U.S. to apply its leverage in international forums to hurt the country's economy.

A long-festering dispute lies at the heart of the conflict between the two countries: The U.S. accuses Pakistan of harboring jihadists who kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, while Islamabad says Washington doesn't adequately acknowledge Pakistan's role in decimating al Qaeda or its sacrifice of thousands of lives after joining America's war on terror.

Islamabad also sees the U.S. growing ever closer to its archenemy India, with the Trump administration even inviting New Delhi to take a bigger role in Afghanistan -- a move experts say all but guaranteed Pakistan's pullback from cooperating with the U.S. effortthere. The cleavage could push Pakistan further into the arms of China and complicate America's effort to end the Afghanistan war, its longest-running conflict. BMI Research, an economic-analysis firm based in London, said in a report Friday that the U.S. suspension of aid "will likely accelerate Pakistan's geopolitical drift towards China."

Washington said Thursday that security assistance was on hold "until the Pakistani government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network." The suspension could freeze more than $2 billion in U.S. assistance to Pakistan, including about $1.2 billion to pay for military equipment and training and $900 million given to aid Pakistan's counterterrorism operations, according to the National Security Council.

Mr. Asif said Pakistan made a "huge mistake" in 2001 -- when the country was under military dictatorship -- by joining America's campaign in Afghanistan, which he said engendered a terrorist backlash on Pakistan.

However spirited this week's exchange between Washington and Islamabad has been, both sides have avoided even more inflammatory moves that could permanently damage their respective interests.

Actions that Pakistan particularly fears would include the U.S. limiting Pakistan's access to international finance and banking or imposing punitive measures such as travel bans and sanctions against individual Pakistani officials.

Pakistan could retaliate to any such further deterioration of ties by cutting off the key supply route for the nearly 14,000 U.S. soldiers in landlocked Afghanistan, experts said.

Pakistan says it isn't "fighting for money" andcan manage without U.S. aid, reacting with pique to President Donald Trump's use of language widely seen in the country as impugning its national honor. In a New Year's Day tweet, he said the Pakistanis "have given us nothing but lies & deceit" for 15 years while taking $33 billion of American aid.

Pakistani officials say the country's armed forces are already stretched fighting other militants and protecting its borders. "We have done enough and we cannot do any more," Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, the spokesman of the powerful military, said this week. But experts say Washington is unlikely to be satisfied by the level of Pakistani action against the Haqqani network and Taliban. Mr. Asif said the U.S. had turned Pakistan into a "whipping boy" for its failures in Afghanistan.

He said Pakistan's recent counterterrorism operations -- including those in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan -- have cleared out militants and any possible sanctuaries for them. Pakistani officials say they are pushing Afghan insurgents across the border, but they won't fight the Afghan war on Pakistani soil.

"We have relative calm in Pakistan at the moment," Mr. Asif said. "But if we go against these people [Afghan insurgents], then the war will again be fought on our soil, which will suit the Americans."

Top Trump administration officials have pressed Pakistan's leaders to clamp down on sanctuaries used by the two militant groups to plan attacks, collect weapons, and allow fighters to recuperate. But the senior U.S. official said the administration was "angry and dissatisfied" with Pakistan's response "and the continued linkages we see between the Pakistan security services and the Haqqani network."

Washington accuses Pakistan's powerful military of supporting the Taliban and Haqqani network as proxies to have influence in Afghanistan, a charge Islamabad denies.

"We are still working with Pakistan, and we will restore the aid if we see decisive movements against the terrorists," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday, adding he wasn't worried about Pakistan cutting off U.S. supply routes to Afghanistan.

Washington's policy, in turn, appears no more likely to satisfy Pakistan. Islamabad wants India's role in Afghanistan reduced to a skeleton presence, and it wants coalition and Afghan forces to fight anti-Pakistan militants based in Afghanistan.

Mr. Asif said that Pakistan is "not alone" and had options for other allies. Last year, the foreign minister rallied China, Iran, Russia and Turkey behind Pakistan's strategy for Afghanistan, which centers on peace talks with the Taliban instead of more fighting. Following Mr. Trump's tweet against Pakistan this week, China said it was "ready to promote and deepen our cooperation" with Pakistan.

Underlying the estrangement of Pakistan and the U.S. are larger geopolitical dynamics. Washington has been getting much closer to India over the last decade, while Pakistan has embraced China, the chief U.S. competitor for influence in Asia, which has a $55 billion infrastructure-building program in Pakistan. Islamabad has also developed better ties with other U.S. rivals: Iran, Russia and Turkey.

Shared interests in Afghanistan could yet prevent a U.S.-Pakistan divorce. Rifaat Hussain, a defense expert at Islamabad's National University of Sciences and Technology, said the U.S. had "no chance" of stabilizing Afghanistan without Pakistan's help. And Pakistan wants a secure border with Afghanistan.

"U.S.-Pakistan relations are in free fall," said Mr. Hussain. "I think that's a very dangerous trend. The relationship is much too important for both countries."

--Dion Nissenbaum and Nancy A. Youssef in Washington contributed to this article.

Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com
 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 06, 2018 02:32 ET (07:32 GMT)

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