Washington: US-Pakistan relations took a major blow on Monday when President Donald Trump halted all aid to Islamabad after accusing it of lying and giving “safe haven to terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan”.
Pakistan, a close ally of the US for 70 long years, vowed to respond soon and tell the world “the truth… (the) difference between facts and fiction”.
In an announcement which many saw it coming, Trump began the New Year with a stinging attack on Pakistan, saying it would get no more US aid as it was harbouring terrorists the US was fighting in Afghanistan.
“The US has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” he tweeted in his strongest denunciation of Islamabad.
“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” he added.
Foreign Minister Khawaja M. Asif said in Pakistan’s first reaction: “We will respond to Trump’s tweet shortly Insha Allah… Will let the world know the truth… Difference between facts and fiction.”
There was no immediate reaction in Kabul and New Delhi which have repeatedly accused Islamabad of harbouring and arming terrorists ranged against the two countries. Pakistan routinely denies such accusations, charging instead India and Afghanistan with trying to destabilize it.
Trump’s announcement followed an increasingly tense back-and-forth between Washington and Islamabad after the US President unveiled his administration’s National Security Strategy that showed Pakistan in poor light.
He had then reminded Pakistan about its obligation towards helping the US because it got “massive payments” from Washington every year.
“We have made it clear to Pakistan that while we desire continued partnership, we must see decisive action against terrorist groups operating on their territory,” Trump had said. “They have to help.”
The Trump administration had on December 30 said that it was considering to withhold $255 million aid to Pakistan.
A Pentagon report to the US Congress of December 17 had warned that Washington would take unilateral steps in areas of divergence with Pakistan while expanding cooperation between the two countries where their interests converged.
US Vice President Mike Pence then “put Pakistan on notice” in the harshest US condemnation of Islamabad since the two countries came together during Afghan war 16 years ago.
Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor last week asserted that the aid Pakistan received from the US was “reimbursement for support we gave … for its fight against Al Qaeda. Had we not supported the US and Afghanistan, they would never have been able to defeat Al Qaeda”.
The US did not contemplate stopping all aid to Pakistan even after US commandos raided the hideout of fugitive Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden near Rawalpindi, killed him and flew back with his body. Pakistani officials then said they had no idea bin Laden was in Pakistan.