The Pentagon issued a warning Monday to Pakistani leaders: Stop protesters from hindering U.S. military equipment leaving Afghanistan or else lose U.S. aid.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered the warning during his first visit to Pakistan as Pentagon chief — and the first visit there by a U.S. defense secretary since 2010.
It was Mr. Hagel’s intent to prevent problems with the aid, defense officials told reporters on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private meetings between the defense secretary and Pakistani leaders.
The U.S. provides more than $1 billion in aid to Pakistan every year.
“The prime minister indicated that Pakistan would address the issue,” said Carl Woog, the Defense Department’s assistant press secretary.
As the U.S. military winds down the war in Afghanistan, it is bringing home tons of military equipment over land through Pakistan, which is cheaper than flying it home or transporting it using a northern route through several countries.
Occasional diplomatic disagreements have prompted temporary closures of the route between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The ongoing protests by club-wielding Pakistani activists are the latest complication, coming in response to continuing CIA drone strikes in northwestern Pakistan. The area, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, is home to Afghan and Pakistani Taliban insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists.
Mr. Hagel’s visit comes as the two countries attempt to smooth over frayed relations in recent years.
Pakistani leaders have been pressured by citizens who say the CIA drone strikes violate their country’s sovereignty and have killed civilians.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a statement after his meeting with Mr. Hagel, saying he “conveyed Pakistan’s deep concern over continuing U.S. drone strikes, stressing that drone strikes were counterproductive to our efforts to combat terrorism and extremism on an enduring basis.”
Between 2,534 and 3,657 people have been killed in Pakistan by drone strikes, including 416 to 948 civilians, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit newsgathering operation that tracks the statistics.
Pakistani officials publicly have criticized the drone strikes, but they privately have endorsed some of them.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have been frustrated over Pakistan’s unwillingness to target terrorist networks in Pakistan who launch attacks on U.S. and coalition troops across the border in Afghanistan.
“During his meeting with the prime minister, Secretary Hagel reviewed shared concerns regarding the activities of terrorist groups, including the Haqqani network, on Pakistani territory,” Mr. Woog said.