Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States on Wednesday warned against cutting off U.S. aid to his country, after a Republican presidential candidate called for an end to foreign assistance to the South Asian country where intelligence officials are suspected of supporting terrorists.
“By shutting down [U.S. aid to Pakistan], you are sending a message to people that you dont care,” Ambassador Husain Haqqani said at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
At the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina on Saturday night, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Pakistan does not deserve U.S. aid.
“Pakistan is clearly sending us messages … that they don’t deserve our foreign aid … because they’re not being honest with us,” he said.
The relationship between Washington and Islamabad has grown increasingly tense this year after the arrest of a U.S. contractor in the killing of two Pakistanis, the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a U.S. commando raid on his Pakistan hide-out in May, and an accusation by the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff that Pakistan’s intelligence agency supports a terrorist network that has attacked U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Mr. Haqqani said U.S. aid to Pakistan was a “relatively small amount” when compared with U.S. expenditures on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan received more than $2 billion in U.S. military aid last year.
“Whether that small amount gets you what you consider to be desirable results in the short term is not as important as the effect closing it down would have,” Mr. Haqqani said.
The ambassador noted that recent polls have found a majority of Pakistanis with an unfavorable opinion of the United States.
“We need right now to work together on reducing all potential elements of hostility. Why add another layer by threatening to or actually cutting off aid,” he said.
Mr. Haqqani sidestepped a question about whether the U.S.-Pakistan relationship would get even worse if the a Republican wins the White House in next year’s presidential election.
“I started my career in journalism, and survived in Pakistani politics, which is quite a treacherous world - even more so than U.S. politics,” he said. “This experience has taught me one thing, that is: Never respond to the comments of candidates running for office.”
The Obama administration has been pushing the Pakistani government to go after terrorists in Pakistan. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Pakistan in October to urge the government to crack down on terrorists who operate from safe havens in North Waziristan province adjacent to the border with Afghanistan.
However, Mr. Haqqani ruled out any future Pakistani military operation in North Waziristan and said U.S. officials now understand Pakistani reasons.
“We are willing to do anything and everything in fighting terrorists, except taking risks with our internal national cohesion and with our own national security,” he said.
Mr. Haqqani will be traveling to Islamabad soon, where he has been summoned in the wake of speculation in the Pakistani media that he passed on a secret letter from Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari for Adm. Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in May seeking U.S. help to prevent a military coup in Islamabad.