WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary James Mattis on Friday said that the Pentagon was maintaining its communication with the Pakistani military establishment, including with Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, even after suspending its security assistance to Pakistan.
“I think, yesterday Gen Joseph Votel was on the phone with Gen Bajwa, the chief of the army staff. And we’ll continue to coordinate this,” he said at an afternoon news briefing at the Pentagon.
“Obviously, we’ll continue talking with one another, as we are at all times,” said the US defence chief, but he did not clarify if the conversation took place before or after Washington announced the aid suspension on Thursday.
As commander of the US Central Command, Gen Votel is directly responsible for US war efforts in Afghanistan where Washington still maintains about 14,000 troops and other military assets.
Mr Mattis said the Trump administration considered all possibilities before suspending its military assistance to Pakistan and was not worried about Islamabad shutting off supplies to Afghanistan in retaliation.
“I’m not concerned, no,” he said when asked if the suspension could lead Pakistan to cut off supply lines, adding that he had not received any indication from Islamabad that it might block supply lines.
Trump backs plan to use suspended aid money in US
Mr Mattis said “no” again when asked if he was worried that China would move in to fill the gap created by the absence of US military aid to Pakistan.
Also on Friday, a senior Trump administration official told journalists in Washington that the suspension would cost Pakistan an estimated $2 billion in military funding and equipment during the current and next fiscal years.
Unlike Mr Mattis, the official acknowledged that Islamabad could cut off supply routes to Afghanistan but insisted that “unless we deal with the Pakistan sanctuary issue, it will undermine all of our other efforts in Afghanistan”.
At a third briefing, two US State Department officials said the suspension could affect Foreign Military Financing carried forward from 2016 as well as previous funds not yet been spent or delivered.
US media reports indicated that the suspension could also jeopardise almost $1bn of US military equipment, some of which are already in the pipeline.
But analysts, who spoke to various media outlets, said it’s highly unlikely that the US will freeze all its supplies to Pakistan.
At the State Department briefing, officials indicated that Washington could make “exemptions” for programmes deemed vital to US national security.
At the Pentagon, Secretary Mattis acknowledged Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war against terrorism but said the aid suspension was part of the new US strategy for South Asia.
“Pakistan has lost more troops total than all of NATO, coalition combined in the fight against them. But we’ve had disagreements strong disagreements on some issues, and we’re working those,” he said.
Asked if he believed the civilian government was capable of assisting US counterterrorism efforts in the region, Mr Mattis said: “I would say the Pakistan government is capable of doing what we’re trying to do together, yes. Absolutely.”
Bill to end aid proposed
Meanwhile on Saturday, President Donald Trump posted another tweet on Pakistan, backing a Republican Senator’s plan to fund infrastructure projects with suspended aid to Pakistan.
“Good Idea Rand!” in response to a tweet from Senator Rand Paul about ending aid to Pakistan.
Senator Paul said in his tweet, “I’m introducing a bill to end aid to Pakistan in the coming days. My bill will take the money that would have gone to Pakistan and put it in an infrastructure fund to build roads and bridges here at home.”
“We’ve sent Pakistan $33 billion since 2002. What did we get for it? Well Pakistan didn’t even help us find Bin Laden, even though he was living in one of their cities for years,” he said in a video statement on Twitter.
Mr Paul, who said he has been fighting to end aid to Pakistan for years, called President Trump’s recent proposal to suspend aid “a breakthrough”.
Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2018