- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2018

Demonstrators burned large photos of President Trump in Pakistan on Friday, while the Pakistani foreign minister accused Washington of being “erratic in its approach” to the region following the Trump administration’s suspension of aid to the South Asian nation.

Images online showed young men children among the protesters, who also carried large pictures of the American flag with red x-marks over it. Reuters reported that small groups chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Trump” at rallies held after Friday Islamic prayers in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

While the protests ended swiftly, frustration among Pakistani leaders continued to spread Friday afternoon. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said Washington has flip-flopped on its messaging toward the region and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

“If the U.S. is so erratic in its approach, then how come we support them by putting everything on the line,” Mr. Asif said in an interview on Geo News, a Pakistani television network.

The comments suggested Pakistani leaders may be preparing to respond to the Trump administration’s aid suspension by cutting key supply routes that run through Pakistan to U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan — a step Islamabad has taken before in the face of friction with Washington.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Asif was quoted as saying, “the U.S. behavior is neither that of an ally nor of a friend” and that “America “is a friend who always betrays.”

The Trump administration announced Thursday that it was suspending nearly all bilateral security aid to Pakistan on grounds that Islamabad is not doing enough to confront terrorist networks operating in the nation. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the halt will remain in place until Islamabad “takes decisive action” against the Taliban and a group known as the Haqqani network, which is accused of attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.

The administration’s frustration with Pakistan has grown since August, when President Trump accused Islamabad of providing “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror.” A tipping point came in October, when Pakistan captured an alleged Haqqani operative during the rescue of a Canadian-American family. The New York Times has reported that U.S. officials demanded access to the operative, who may have valuable information on other hostages, but that Pakistan rejected the request.

Pakistani officials claim the nation’s military has engaged in a costly internal crackdown on jihadists — including the Haqqani network — over the past three years. In his comments Friday, Mr. Asif said the military has completely destroyed the network’s sanctuaries inside Pakistan despite allegations from Washington regarding the presence of Haqqani fighters in the nation.

But, according to Geo News, the foreign minister also “clarified” that Pakistan had never denied the possibility of an “unorganized presence” of Haqqani fighters in the nation. “We do not totally reject that allegation,” Mr. Asif said. “We say that there is no organized presence [of the Haqqani network] in our country.”

Some analysts said it sounded as if the foreign minister was mincing words on the issue. With that as a backdrop, it remained unclear Friday what Pakistan might do in response to the Trump administration’s aid suspension.

Washington has given more than $30 billion in aid to Islamabad since 2001, with much of the money tied to military training and Pakistani purchases of U.S.-made weaponry. But the relationship has been precarious — a reality highlighted by the U.S. special forces mission in 2011 that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at a hideout inside Pakistan.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama authorized the raid without telling Pakistan ahead of time because he felt Islamabad could not be trusted to keep it secret.

The Trump administration has yet to specify exactly how much U.S. assistance to Pakistan will be halted.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, has said he’s introducing a bill to end aid to Pakistan. But House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, California Republican, said Friday that lawmakers should “look at this carefully.”

“We have certain interests in Afghanistan and as a consequence, we use Pakistan basically as a transit point,” Mr. Royce told Fox News. “They give us some assistance there. So, this is a delicate situation, but we’re trying to apply pressure.”

Pakistani Ambassador the the United States Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said Friday that, “we are engaged with the U.S. Administration on this issue and await further details.”

In a statement, Mr. Chaudhry said that it “needs to be appreciated that Pakistan has fought the war against terrorism largely from its own resources which has cost over $120 billion in 15 years.”

“We believe that Pakistan-U.S. cooperation in fighting terrorism has directly served US national security interests,” he said. “It has helped fight Al-Qaeda and other groups who took advantage of ungoverned spaces along a long porous border and posed a common threat to both countries.”

“Working towards enduring peace requires patience and persistence,” Mr. Chaudhry added. “Emergence of new and more deadly groups such as Daesh in Afghanistan call for enhancing international cooperation. Diplomacy of deadlines and redlines is counterproductive in meeting such common threats.”

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