ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s defense minister responded angrily Monday to an early-morning tweet by President Trump that accused America’s once-close ally of “lies & deceit,” countering that the United States had given Pakistan “invective & mistrust” in return.
In his first tweet of the new year, Trump had said the United States had “foolishly” given Pakistan $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, “and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools.”
Trump wrote further: “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir-Khan hit back on Twitter, writing that Pakistan, as an “anti-terror ally” of the United States, had given Washington land and air communication, military bases and intelligence cooperation that “decimated Al-Qaeda over last 16yrs” while America “has given us nothing but invective& mistrust.”
Officials in the country’s capital scrambled to arrange a cabinet meeting to be held Tuesday to adopt a response to the Twitter attack, while Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said in an interview on Geo Television that the country is ready to publicly provide an accounting of “every detail” of U.S. aid it has received.
Pakistan was already doing all it could to combat terrorism within its borders, he said.
“We have already told the U.S. that we will not do more, so Trump’s ‘no more’ does not hold any importance,” Asif said.
Late Monday afternoon, White House spokesman Raj Shah said the White House does not plan to spend $255 million in fiscal 2016 military aid to Pakistan already appropriated by Congress. That decision was first reported by CNN. The payment has been on hold since August, out of the Trump administration’s insistence that Pakistan do more to crack down on extremists who threaten Afghanistan.
The tense exchanges followed days of speculation that the Trump administration — dissatisfied with the way Pakistan has dealt with the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network and other terrorist groups — was set to dramatically reduce aid to the South Asian nation, long a key partner in the region.
“We shouldn’t overstate the policy significance of this tweet,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “It’s more likely to be an expression of frustration or a statement of intent rather than an actual declaration of a new policy.”
According to a November report from the Congressional Research Service, the United States has appropriated $34 billion in direct aid and military reimbursements for Pakistan since 2002, with proposed security and economic assistance at $345 million for this fiscal year. That number is a significant decrease from the $526 million allotted in fiscal 2017.
In India, news of Trump’s tweet was met with celebration in some quarters, a healthy dose of skepticism in others. Analysts pointed out that in October Trump had tweeted that the administration was “starting to develop a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders.”
This worried Indian officials who had hoped Trump would be taking a stronger stance on Pakistan.
The goodwill appears to have flagged for a variety of reasons; administration officials, for example, were reportedly not happy that Pakistan freed Hafiz Mohammad Saeed from house arrest in November. The Islamist cleric — who led the militant group that carried out the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008, which left more than 160 civilians dead — had been arrested last January.
Last month, during a visit to Afghanistan, Vice President Pence had issued a warning to the country, saying Trump had “put Pakistan on notice” that it has provided a “safe haven” for terrorist groups. “Those days are over,” Pence said.
Gowen reported from New Delhi.