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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has informed the Congress that American officials are treated badly in Pakistan, adding that Washington released “far fewer funds” to Pakistan in 2018 and may give even less next year.

The decision to raise the issue of mistreatment of US officials in Pakistan during a public hearing at the House Foreign Affairs Committee indicates that Islamabad’s once close relationship with Washington has almost ended and Pakistan is now treated as an adversary.

“My officers, our state department officers are being treated badly as well, folks working in the embassies and councils [and] in other places are not being treated well by the Pakistani government either,” said Mr Pompeo during a debate on the US State Department’s budget requests for the next fiscal year.

While the discussion focused on Iran, North Korea and other urgent issues, Congressman Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, brought Pakistan into the debate, saying: “As to Pakistan, it is a country of great importance to us and…I hope the state department would do public diplomacy in the Sindhi language and I hope that you would reach out to the leaders of Pakistan about the disappearances in Sindh and the forced disappearances [in other areas].”

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, later noted that the Trump administration’s budget request for the next year had no increase for Pakistan. “I don’t see any reason whatsoever to give the government of Pakistan any money…in terms of our foreign aid until Dr [Shakil] Afridi, the man who helped us bring justice to Osama bin Laden [is released],” he said.

“Our Pakistani friends have proven their friendship by keeping them in a dungeon in Afghanistan,” he added with a sarcastic note.

Secretary Pompeo informed him that the administration had “released far fewer funds” in 2018 than in the previous year. “The remainder of the funds available are under review. My guess is that that number will be smaller still,” he said.

He said that in his previous role as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), he “worked diligently [but] unsuccessfully” on the issue of Dr Afridi. “Please be aware that it’s at my heart and I know it’s important and we can do that. We can achieve that outcome,” he added.

Congressman Rohrabacher, who, like Mr Sherman, often works with Pakistani dissident groups in Washington, went back to the issue of forced disappearances.

“And it’s getting worse in Pakistan. These people in Karachi and the Sindhis and the others, they’re now facing these, you know, people who are killing their leaders or killing their people who believe in certain things that are different than the radical Islamic philosophy of some of the people in the Pakistani government,” he said.

Secretary Pompeo raised the issue of mistreatment of US officials in Pakistan while responding to Mr Rohrabacher’s remarks, claiming that Pakistan was meting out a similar treatment of American diplomats as well.

It is “a real problem that we need to take the measure of also,” he said.

Earlier this month, the United States ordered Pakistani diplomats in Washington to remain within a 25-mile radius of the city, indicating that it was in retaliation for similar restrictions on US diplomats in Islamabad and other Pakistani cities.

Thomas Suozzi, a New York Democrat, asked the secretary who would be his main point person on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We have a number of people. We have Ms [Alice] Wells working on it, we have in our ambassador in Kabul, Ambassador Bass, we have our master in Islamabad, Ambassador Hail, each of whom is working on implementing” the administration’s South Asia strategy, he said, indicating that he had no plan to appoint a new person.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2018