LONDON - Pakistan is deepening its relationships with Russia and China, the country’s defence minister has said, as the fallout continues from the US decision to suspend $2 billion in military aid to Islamabad.
Khurram Dastgir Khan told the Financial Times that his government was engaged in a “regional recalibration of Pakistan’s foreign and security policy” that threatens to undermine the US war effort in Afghanistan.
Khan said Pakistan would look to Russia and China — as well as Europe — for new military supplies, as the US had “chosen castigation over cooperation”. “We have already bought some Russian helicopters in the past three years,” he said. “This is what we call a regional recalibration of Pakistan’s foreign and security policy. It’s because of the unfortunate choice the United States continues to make.”
Earlier this month US President Donald Trump tweeted that Pakistan had taken $33 billion of US aid over 15 years and given back “nothing but lies and deceit”.
Khan called his comments “deeply offensive” and “counterproductive”. Khan added: “It is unfortunate that we are even discussing the numbers [the amount of aid] while Afghanistan slowly spirals out of the American and Afghan control.”
The row has become one of the biggest rifts in the 70-year alliance between the US and Pakistan, with Islamabad warning it would buy weapons from other countries. Khan said Pakistan and the US still shared many interests but in Washington “lately the focus has been on areas of divergence”. Asked about reports that Islamabad could buy a batch of Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia, Khan said “not yet”, but added: “We have opened a dialogue with Russia, which traditionally we have never had, because we were firmly in the western camp.”
The backbone of the Pakistan air force currently consists of F-16 jets made by Lockheed Martin of the US, although Khan said Islamabad had not received spare parts from the US for several years. “We are using our own ingenuity and using other sources to keep the fleet up in the air,” he said. “It has been very difficult.” Khan added that there was “a discussion” about taking the more drastic step of cutting off US access to land and air routes into Afghanistan — though Pakistani officials have told the FT they were more likely to increase the fees instead.
Khan said: “The fact that we have recalibrated our way towards better relations with Russia, deepening our relationship with China, is a response to what the Americans have been doing. And they have their own reasons. They want to use India, in our view, to contain China.”
In another interview with national radio and TV channel of Belgium, VRT: Flemish Radio and TV, Dastgir said the Americans are choosing to blame Pakistan for their sixteen-year old failure in Afghanistan. “A lot of blame game has come to Pakistan. It is one of the reasons (that as) why we have now begun to fence the border. And it is very interesting: now that we say OK you blame us that we send people across or that some people are crossing over, we will fence the whole 2,600 kilometres,” he said. “But once we have begun to fence, we have done almost well 250 kilometres already, no one is helping us,” the minister said in response to a question on Pak- US relations.
He expressed the hope that the Europeans would convey Pakistan’s point of view to the Americans, who he stated were at the moment not very receptive to Pakistan’s point of view. “It is to say that again let’s keep the eyes on the prize, as the Americans say. And the prize is a stable democratic Afghanistan,” he maintained. In the context of situation in Afghanistan, the minister said, “They have spent a trillion dollars; they have sacrificed thousands of soldiers, many more injuries. And even now, nearly 45 percent of Afghanistan is outside the government’s control.”
The minister warned, as long as the situation is unstable in Afghanistan, there would remain unrest in Pakistan.
On the internal security situation of Pakistan, he said the internal security situation had massively improved. “There is no other word for it. I think we have performed a near miracle. So, the whole of Pakistan is now peaceful. We still get some terrorist incidents. But largely, the incidents of terror are down by 80 percent from their peak in 2012.”
“The murdering of 142 children in Army Public School in 2014 cleared the mind of the people of Pakistan. These were not religious people, these were not anti-American crusaders; these were not nationalist people. They were just evil people who wanted to hurt Pakistan,” he said.
Talking about improvement in Pakistan’s economic situation, Khan was of the view that the country was the fastest growing consumer market in the world at the moment. “There is a lot of interest from international retailers, food outlets, and companies who want to tap Pakistan’s consumer market. As I said, the infrastructure is coming in, and Pakistan is finally, we believe, at the threshold of utilising its potential because of its very strategic geographical location.
“It is something that has given us more trouble in our history. But now finally because of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and the investment that is coming in, that we are about to exploit its potential,” he added.