Pakistan expresses disappointment at U.S. aid cutoff

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The Trump administration briefed Congress on its decision on Wednesday. Referring to the new South Asia Policy announced by Trump in August, Nauert said despite a sustained high-level engagement by this administration with the government of Pakistan, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilise Afghanistan and also attack the United States and allied personnel. It also placed the country on a watch list of nations failing to protect religious freedom.

Pakistanis rally against US President Donald Trump in Lahore city on January 2, 2018 after Trump slammed Pakistan for "lies & deceit" in a New Year's Day tweet that said Islamabad had played US leaders for "fools".

"Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats", the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.

"The US behaviour is neither that of an ally nor of a friend", Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said on television. "The US will suspend that kind of security assistance to Pakistan", State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters.

Pakistan's opposition, meanwhile, called for concrete actions to retaliate.

The United States acknowledges and appreciates Pakistan's successful efforts to combat militants that threaten the Pakistani state, such as the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaida, and ISIS [Islamic State].

South Asia expert Christine Fair of Georgetown University voiced concern that Pakistan might retaliate for the suspension by closing the highways from the port city of Karachi on which equipment is trucked to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the airspace through which supplies are flown to US-led global forces in landlocked Afghanistan.

The United States has also said some of the frozen aid could be released on a case-by-case basis, and none of it will be spent elsewhere - leaving the door open to full reconciliation.

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"Our hope is that they will see this as a further indication of this administration's vast frustration with the trajectory of our relationship and that they need to be serious about taking the steps we asked in order to put it on a more solid footing", the State Department Official said.

State Department officials said the $255 million in FMF for 2016 that has been kept in a separate account since September would remain there for now.

The US wants action against the existing safe havens of the Taliban and the Haqqani network and demolish its ability to carry out strikes across the border in Afghanistan, the Official said and expressed hope that Pakistan would take actions that the US was seeking. "And Pakistan has sacrificed a significant amount, including tens of thousands of military and security officials, as well as civilians killed in the fight against terrorism over the last couple of years", a State Department official said. Whether Pakistan will cooperate after the aid freeze remains to be seen. "They have to take decisive steps", she added. "We'll continue to coordinate this...this is going to take time".

The tension between the two governments was evident during a meeting between Asif and national security adviser H.R. McMaster in October at the White House, Asif said in Thursday's TV interview. "We simply can not ignore the terror sanctuaries (in Pakistan) if we're going to make progress in Afghanistan", he said, adding that "the president has been very clear about his commitment to stabilising Afghanistan".

However, this deterioration does not come as a surprise to those paying attention to the decline in our bilateral relations. "We have had no indication of anything like that", he said in response to a question.

The paper in a detailed report from Washington reported that Pakistanis do not disagree with the basic thrust of the American argument but they have one major worry: What if it fails? However, the official refrained from divulging any of the options that the administration is considering against Pakistan. "Pakistan could shut down American access at any moment".

"If Pakistan feels sufficiently provoked by tough USA measures, it could retaliate in ways that damage US interests in South Asia", Kugelman said.

The decision, which was announced Thursday, is meant to pressure Pakistan to help USA foreign policy priorities like clamping down on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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