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International relations

Pakistan defends efforts in war on terror as US cuts aid

Friction with Washington leaves opening for China

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is set to meet Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON -- Pakistan slammed the recent U.S. decision to cancel $300 million in military aid over the country's alleged support of terrorist groups, as Islamabad's ties with Washington sour at the outset of Prime Minister Imran Khan's government.

"The Pakistan army and people have sacrificed a lot," Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters Sunday in Islamabad.

The U.S. diverted the $300 million in Coalition Support Funds to "other urgent priorities" based on a lack of "decisive actions" by Pakistan in support of American strategy for South Asia, said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Kone Faulkner, according to Reuters.

Islamabad countered by emphasizing its role in Washington's war on terror and its contributions to regional security.

Pakistan's anti-terrorism policies have drawn American criticism before. The White House withheld another $500 million in Coalition Support Funds earlier this year, Reuters reported.

When President Donald Trump revealed a new strategy in August 2017 for the war in Afghanistan, he said that the U.S. could not overlook terrorist havens in Pakistan. Most of these havens are near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Taliban-affiliated insurgency groups like the Haqqani Network hide there, crossing the border into Afghanistan to conduct terrorist attacks.

Though Islamabad began counterterrorism raids in 2014, the country's Inter-Services Intelligence agency -- which coordinates spy activities among the military branches -- has excluded Haqqani from its list of targets. This exclusion is regarded as tacit approval of the network's cross-border offensive. The military also is thought to have backed Khan's party in July's general election.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top military officer Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to visit Khan in Islamabad on Wednesday. They are expected to agree on increasing counterterrorism raids against organizations like Haqqani.

The two sides typically have not seen eye to eye, however. Khan has been critical of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan since before taking office, while Pompeo has long held a hard-line stance on Pakistan. The secretary warned Islamabad in a July television interview with CNBC against taking an International Monetary Fund bailout to repay Chinese loans.

Pakistan's military is suspected of trying to maintain greater political influence domestically than the government by turning a blind eye to insurgent groups like Haqqani that keep South Asia unstable.

U.S. officials including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have repeatedly warned Pakistan about such implicit support. The Trump administration also has grown increasingly disgruntled with a lack of results in Afghanistan. Trump said a year earlier that the U.S. would maintain a military presence in Afghanistan, but likely is exploring the possibility of a withdrawal.

Pakistan also is enjoying a honeymoon with China. Some think the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an assemblage of infrastructure projects worth $62 billion for Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, could reshape the future of the country's economy.

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