Pakistan mulls blocking US supply lines into Afghanistan

Khurram says two countries not talking to each other

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan says it is reassessing strained ties with the United States, a move that could lead to halting supply lines into Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan made the remarks to VOA exclusively a day before an international task force is to place Pakistan on a terrorism-financing watch list at the urging of US President Donald Trump’s administration.

The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, or FATF decided in February to include Pakistan in its so-called “gray list” of nations that are not doing enough to curb terrorism financing.

“We have reached an impasse in which we have this very strictly formal diplomatic communication is happening, so the US ambassador in Islamabad comes and speaks to us in the Foreign Office and our ambassador in Washington goes and speaks to the State Department. But that’s not really communication, the two countries are not speaking to each other,” Khan said.

He blamed the Trump administration’s “adamant” refusal to communicate for “the low ebb” in mutual ties. “At the moment Pakistan is not being heard. Pakistan is just being vilified and castigated in Washington without being heard at all. It is this situation.”

The only communication that currently exists apart from the formal diplomatic interaction, Khan said, is that US CENTCOM commander General John Votel has been speaking to Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“Formally Pakistan is still a major non-NATO ally and for the United States to actively target Pakistan in FATF, trampling over all regulations and precedents is by necessity forcing us to rethink,” lamented the minister.

Khan, who also heads the defence ministry, acknowledged that American civilian and military financial assistance programmes have over the years helped Islamabad meet its crucial budgetary shortfalls. But the expected financial support from Washington this year, he said, has dropped to ‘zero’ for the first time in a decade.

Khan noted, however, that despite all the tensions and bitterness in mutual ties, Pakistan has kept its ground and air lines of communications open for US and allied nations to ferry supplies to their troops in landlocked Afghanistan.

“Yes, we have to consider all options that are in front of us because it would appear to us that the US is following what can be termed a non-violent compellence of Pakistan,” the minister said when asked whether his country is close to shutting down the supply lines.

Khan underscored the need for the two countries to communicate and speak to each other despite maintaining divergent views on the war in Afghanistan, the longest in US history.

“The fact that that longest (US) war shows no sign of turning positive for the US is all the more reason that whatever differences or grievances we might have Pakistan and the US should be communicating at different levels… because ultimately this is a relationship, at least in our view, bigger than Afghanistan and has been bigger than Afghanistan.”

Khan said at a time when US and Western partners have “abandoned Pakistan to terrorism” and continue to ignore his country’s “unprecedented” sacrifices in fighting terrorist groups, Islamabad’s traditional ally China has stood by it and brought billions of dollars in historic direct Chinese investment.

“Russians are essentially (also) walking into a vacuum created by the absence of our American friends,” the minister said pointing to Pakistan’s rapidly improving relations with old rival Russia.

At a public talk in Washington last week, John Sopko, the US Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), stopped short of dismissing Washington’s narrative of singling out Pakistan for the Afghan military stalemate.

“We keep referring to Pakistan as being the key problem. But the problem also was that the Afghan government at times was viewed very negatively by their local people and what you really need is to insert a government that the people support, a government that is not predatory, a government that is not a bunch of lawless warlords,” observed Sopko.

He went on to say that the US policy of pouring in billions of dollars in these unstable environments contributed to the problem of creating more warlords and powerful people who took the law into their own hands.

“In essence, the government we introduced, particularly some of the Afghan local police forces, which were nothing other than warlord militias with some uniforms on, were just as bad as the terrorists before them,” said Sopko who is overseeing US spending to identify fraud and to prevent it.


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