Pakistan's PM, military meet to respond to Donald Trump's criticism

Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has not responded yet to Mr Trump's remarks on Pakistan harbouring "agents of chaos" and providing safe havens to militant groups waging an insurgency against a US-backed government in Kabul.
Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has not responded yet to Mr Trump's remarks on Pakistan harbouring "agents of chaos" and providing safe havens to militant groups waging an insurgency against a US-backed government in Kabul. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD (REUTERS) - Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will meet with powerful Pakistani generals on Thursday (Aug 24) to formulate a response to the new US policy on Afghanistan that includes greater pressure on Islamabad to do more to rein in militants.

President Donald Trump has chastised Pakistan for harbouring "agents of chaos" and providing safe havens to militant groups waging an insurgency against a US-backed government in Kabul, saying Islamabad must promptly change tack.

White House officials have gone further and threatened aid and military cuts, as well as other measures to force nuclear-armed Pakistan's hand and bring about an end to the 16-year war.

Mr Abbasi has not responded yet to Mr Trump's remarks but Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said Washington should not use Pakistan as a scapegoat for its failures in America's longest running war. Pakistan denies harbouring militants.

As is often the case with Pakistan, the final decision about how to proceed with rest with the military, which has ruled the country for nearly half its 70-year history. It calls the shots on key parts of Pakistan's foreign policy, including ties with the US, Afghanistan and arch-foe India.

Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who will be part of the National Security Council meeting on Thursday, met with US Ambassador David Hale a day earlier and said Islamabad wanted trust and understanding rather than US aid money.

Pakistani officials bristle at what they say is a lack of respect by Washington for the country's sacrifices in the war against militancy and its successes against groups like al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or the Pakistani Taliban.

Pakistan estimates that there have been 70,000 casualties in militant attacks since it joined the US "war on terrorism" after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

"We feel the American administration led by Mr Trump has been totally one sided, unfair to Pakistan and does not appreciate and recognise Pakistan has been a pivotal player...in the campaign against terrorism," Senator Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the senate defence committee, told Reuters on Thursday.

Pakistani officials have also been angered by Mr Trump imploring old rival India to play a greater role in reconstructing Afghanistan, warning a greater Indian role in Kabul could be a threat to regional peace.

Pakistan fears New Delhi's greater influence in Afghanistan would leave it sandwiched by India, its bigger neighbour against whom it has fought three wars since independence in 1947.

Analysts have also warned that putting greater pressure on Pakistan risks driving Islamabad deeper into the arms of China, its northern neighbour which is investing nearly US$60 billion (S$82 billion) in infrastructure projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi told US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call that the US must value Pakistan's role in Afghanistan and respect its security concerns, according to Chinese state media.

"Things have changed since 9/11," added Senator Hussain. "The US today has far more diminished clout and leverage in the region and we have far more strategic space and options in our foreign policy."

The relationship between the two countries has endured periods of extreme strain in recent years, especially after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found and killed by US special forces in Pakistan in a 2011 raid.