PAKISTAN PRIME MINISTER ISSUES WARNING
PAKISTAN’S prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said it would be counter-productive for the United States to sanction Pakistani officials or further cut military assistance, warning it would hurt both countries’ fight against militancy.
US-Pakistan relations have frayed since President Donald Trump last month set out a new Afghanistan policy and lashed out at nuclear-armed Pakistan as a fickle ally that gives safe haven to “agents of chaos” by harbouring the Afghan Taliban and other militants.
The US has already begun conditioning future aid to Pakistan on progress Islamabad makes in tackling the Haqqani network militants who it alleges are Pakistan based and have helped the Taliban carry out deadly attacks inside Afghanistan.
Pakistan denies hosting militant sanctuaries, and Islamabad bristles at claims it has not done enough to tackle militancy, noting it has borne the brunt of violence in the so-called war on terror, suffering more than 60,000 casualties since 2001.
Former petroleum minister Abbasi, 58, who was installed as prime minister last month after the supreme court ousted veteran premier Nawaz Sharif over undeclared income, said any targeted sanctions by Washington against Pakistani military and intelligence officials would not help US counter-terrorism efforts.
“We are fighting the war against terror, anything that degrades our effort will only hurt the US effort,” Abbasi said on Monday (11). “What does it achieve?”
US officials privately say the targeted sanctions would be aimed at Pakistani officials with ties to extremist groups and are part of an array of options being discussed to pressure Pakistan to change its behaviour, including further aid cuts.
Washington’s civilian and military assistance to Pakistan was less than $1 billion in 2016, down from a recent peak of $3.5 billion in 2011, and Abbasi warned that Washington will not achieve its counter-terrorism aims by starving Pakistan of funds.
“If the military aid cuts degrade our effort to fight war on terror, who does it help?” he said. “Whatever needs to be done here, it needs to be a cooperative effort.”
Abbasi said one practical side-effect of military aid cuts and US Congress blocking the sale of subsidised F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan will be to force Islamabad to buy weapons from China and Russia.
“We’ve had to look at other options to maintain our national defensive forces,” he said.
The Trump administration’s tougher stance is seen as pushing Islamabad closer to Beijing, which has pledged about $60 billion in roads, rail and power infrastructure in Pakistan as part of its ambitious Belt and Road initiative to build vast land and sea trade routes linking Asia with Europe and Africa.
“We have a major economic relationship with (China), we have a major military relationship since the 1960s, so that’s definitely one of our options,” he said.
Abbasi said it was “unfair” to blame Pakistan for all the troubles in Afghanistan, saying Washington should show more appreciation for Pakistan’s losses from militancy and its role in hosting 3.5 million Afghan refugees.
He added that Afghan-based militants have also launched cross-border attacks on civilians and military in Pakistan, prompting Pakistan to begin investing “several billion dollars” to fence the disputed and porous 2,500 km (1,500 mile) border.
“We intend to fence the whole border to control that situation,” Abbasi added.
Abbasi, a skydiving enthusiast and co-founder of a budget airline, also faces growing headwinds on the economy ahead of a general election, likely sometime in mid-2018.
Growth in Pakistan’s $300 billion economy surged to 5.3 per cent in 2016-17, its fastest pace in a decade, but the macro-economic outlook has deteriorated, stoking concerns Pakistan may need an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout, as it did in 2013, to avert another balance of payments crisis.
Foreign currency reserves have dwindled by almost a quarter to $14.7 billion since last October, while the 2016-17 current account deficit has more than doubled to $12.1 billion.
Abbasi said Islamabad was looking at a raft of measures to alleviate current account pressures to avoid going back to the IMF, including reducing imports of luxury goods, boosting exports, and possibly devaluing its currency. (Reuters)