Pakistan has said it is being treated like a “whipping boy” and has no alliance with the US after to the country for failing to take “decisive action” against terrorist networks.
The funding freeze announced on Thursday, along with a decision the same day to place on a watchlist for “severe violations of religious freedom”, is the most forceful US effort in years to pressure Islamabad to rein in militant groups operating in the country.
A US Department of State spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said the money would be withheld until the Pakistan government acted against groups including the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network, which she accused of “destabilising the region and also targeting US personnel”.
The suspension of funds came days after Donald Trump tweeted that Islamabad had been treating US leaders as “fools”, and prompted accusations of betrayal and calls by Pakistani opposition leaders to sever ties with the US.
'Nothing but lies and deceit': Trump launches Twitter attack on Pakistan
“We do not have any alliance” with the US, said Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s foreign minister, in an interview with Geo TV on Friday. “This is not how allies behave.”
Asif had described Washington in a TV interview the previous day as “a friend who always betrays”.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said enduring peace required “mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence”.
It added: “Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats.”
Nuzhat Sadiq, a senior legislator who chairs the Senate foreign affairs committee, said the US move was “not good for its policy against terrorism and for a lasting peace in this region”.
She said Pakistan could manage without US assistance, as it had in the 1990s, but preferred to put the relationship back on track. Pakistan had always “played a vital role in the war on terror”, she said.
Imran Khan, the former cricketer turned key opposition leader, said the US was trying to scapegoat Pakistan for the former’s failures in and called for the two countries to be “delinked”.
Trump signalled action against Islamabad on Monday, tweeting that the US had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33bn in aid in the last 15 years and received “nothing but lies and deceit”.
Alleged Pakistani support for militant groups fighting in Afghanistan has poisoned relations between Washington and Islamabad since the military campaign was launched in 2001. Citing similar concerns, the Obama administration suspended about $800m in military aid in 2011.
Like Barack Obama, Trump would need to learn to work with Islamabad, said Ayesha Siddiqa, an author and expert on the Pakistani military based at Soas, University of London.
“Ultimately the US will have to come to the table,” she said, citing the need to use Pakistan’s roads and airspace to fuel and supply US forces in Afghanistan. “It’s an issue of logistics. The American military understands this and the Pakistan military understands this too.”
Siddiqa predicted Pakistan would give some ground but not significantly suppress the militant groups.
“They’ll soften a bit, there will be some negotiations, some concessions will be extracted, and maybe somebody from the Haqqani network will be shot dead,” she said. “But I don’t see any major change in policy.”
The in August suspended $255m for Pakistani purchases of US military hardware. Nauert said on Thursday those funds remained blocked but added that money for civilian development and economic assistance would not be affected.