WASHINGTON: The US State Department has said that Pakistan needs to earn the money it gets from Washington while the White House warned that President Donald Trump can follow through his pledge to stop US assistance to Pakistan if it does not change its Afghan policy.
The two statements were part of the regular news briefings at the White House and the State Department on Tuesday where reporters appeared perturbed about the timing of the tweet Mr Trump sent out at 4am on Monday, threatening Pakistan with dire consequences of its alleged support to the militants.
At the State Department, Spokesperson Heather Nauert seemed aware of the unpopularity of the “do more” phrase and avoided it, at least once. “I don’t want to say that Pakistan can do more, but Pakistan knows what it needs to do,” she said.
But Ms Nauert minced no words when asked why President Trump was threatening to stop US economic and military assistance to Pakistan.
White House’s press secretary says President Trump ‘does what he says’
“They need to better earn, essentially, the money that we have provided in the past in foreign military assistance, they need to show that they are sincere in their efforts to crack down on terrorists,” she said.
At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reminded Pakistan that President Trump “does what he says” and he will follow through the commitment he made.
Both statements emphasised the point that there’s no immediate reason behind the tweet that seems to have stirred a wave of anti-American sentiments across Pakistan. Mr Trump was only re-emphasising his frustration with Pakistan’s Afghan policy.
“The president is simply following through on a commitment that he made, because this is a president that does what he says he’s going to do,” said Sanders when asked what precipitated President Trump’s tweet about threatening to withhold future US aid to Pakistan.
“We know that Pakistan can do more to fight terrorism, and we want them to step up and do that,” she added, negating the State Department’s effort to avoid using an unpopular phrase.
Despite her denial, reporters at the White House briefing continued to ask Ms Sanders what caused Mr Trump to send out a tweet at 4am.
Some reminded that the US-Pakistan disagreement on the Haqqani network was a long-running dispute between the two governments, so there has to be a reason for sending such a harsh message to Islamabad.
Ms Sanders traced it back to the new Afghan strategy President Trump outlined in August reminding Pakistan that it was not fulfilling its obligations. Another journalist looking for a cause for the tweet referred to Mr Trump’s UN envoy Nikki Haley’s statement, saying that the aid cut for Pakistan was not tied to the United Nations vote on Jerusalem.
“First, in terms of Pakistan, as I said, our goal is that we know that they can do more to stop terrorism, and we want them to do that. That seems pretty simple,” Ms Sanders said.
Responding to the second part of the question — when would the US announce sanctions on the nations that voted against it in the UN on the Jerusalem issue last month — the White House official said: “I think you’ll see some more details come out on that in the next 24 to 48 hours.”
At the State Department, Ms Heather too had to face the same question — “why did the administration choose this week to announce it is withholding aid from Pakistan”?
“Actually, no, we didn’t. That was an announcement that came out back in August, and for some reason, people got interested in it again. But that is not a new announcement that we would hold back on that money,” she responded.
“Pakistan is an important partner. We have a lot of issues in that region. Pakistan knows that, we all know that, and we try to work carefully together on some of those issues,” said Ms Heather.
“The president has made clear in the past also… that the US expects Pakistan to take decisive action against the Haqqani network and other militants who are operating from its soil,” she added.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2018