US weighs Pak blowback – $2bn at risk in aid suspension

Pakistani demonstrators gather during a protest against US aid cuts at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border post in Chaman on Jan 5. The United States added bite to its increasingly public spat with Pakistan over militant safe havens on Dec 4, suspending hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance. President Donald Trump’s administration has expressed deep frustration at its South Asian ally’s failure to crack down on the Afghan Taleban and Haqqani group bases. (AFP)

WASHINGTON, Jan 6, (Agencies): The United States is examining ways to mitigate any Pakistani retaliation as it piles pressure on Islamabad to crack down on militants, a senior US official said on Friday, cautioning that US action could extend beyond a new freeze in aid. Pakistan is a crucial gateway for US military supplies destined for US and other troops fighting a 16-yearold war in neighboring, landlocked Afghanistan. So far, the Pentagon says Pakistan has not given any indication that it would close its airspace or roads to military supplies and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis played down concerns on Friday. But Washington has only just begun to work through its new plan to suspend up to roughly $2 billion in US security assistance, announced on Thursday.

It came days after US President Donald Trump tweeted that Pakistan had rewarded past US aid with “nothing but lies & deceit.” The senior Trump administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington hoped that the aid suspension would be enough to communicate its concern to Islamabad. But the official cautioned that the freeze was also not the only tool that America had to pressure the country — suggesting it might resort to other measures, if needed. “We are considering many different things, not just the (financial) assistance issue,” the official said. “We are also looking at Pakistan’s potential response … and we are looking at ways to deal with that and to mitigate the risks to the relationship.” The official declined to detail what steps were under consideration, including whether that might include possible unilateral US military action against militants in Pakistan. But as Trump allow the US military to again ramp up its war effort in Afghanistan, including with the deployment of more US troops alongside Afghan forces, the official acknowledged a sense of urgency.

The United States has long blamed the militant safehavens in Pakistan for prolonging the war in Afghanistan, giving insurgents, including from the Haqqani network, a place to plot attacks and rebuild its forces. “We believe we owe it to the Americans in harms’ way in Afghanistan. We simply can’t ignore the sanctuaries if we are going to make progress in Afghanistan,” the official said. Mattis, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said he was not concerned about America’s ability to use Pakistan as a gateway to resupply US forces in Afghanistan. “I’m not concerned, no,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon, adding he had not gotten any indication from Pakistan that it might cut off those routes. Mattis traveled to Pakistan last month. Pakistan denounced Washington’s decision to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance as “counterproductive” Friday, in a carefully-worded response to the frustrated Trump administration’s public rebuke over militant safe havens

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