World News

Pakistan Dismisses Trump’s Tweet on Aid as ‘Incomprehensible’

Posted January 2, 2018 5:06 p.m. EST

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has dismissed as “incomprehensible” and of “no importance” a tweet by President Donald Trump saying that it had accepted billions of dollars in aid from the United States while failing to act against terrorist networks.

Trump, in a tweet Monday, accused Pakistan of deceit and lies and said that Pakistan gives “safe haven to terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help.”

“No more,” Trump warned.

Later that day, Pakistan’s foreign affairs minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, dismissed Trump’s Twitter outburst as having “no importance.”

David Hale, the U.S. ambassador, was summoned late Monday to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, the capital, and a diplomatic protest was lodged, Pakistani officials said.

Coverage of Trump’s comments has dominated the Pakistani news media, and an emergency session of the country’s National Security Council was held Tuesday evening to allow top civilian and military leaders to prepare a response.

While describing Trump’s remarks as “completely incomprehensible,” a statement after the meeting was temperate. It concluded that, “despite all unwarranted allegations, Pakistan cannot act in haste and will remain committed to playing a constructive role towards an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.”

Trump’s post and Pakistan’s response point to a nose-dive in the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, which has become deeply strained in recent months. In several recent high-profile visits, U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed frustration over Pakistan’s failure to confront terrorist networks within its borders. But Pakistani officials say they have done more than enough.

Privately, Pakistani officials say that the United States has failed in Afghanistan and is looking to blame Pakistan for that failure. Pakistani officials continue to deny that militants, especially those with the Haqqani network, which is allied with the Afghan Taliban and is responsible for many lethal attacks inside Afghanistan, have havens inside Pakistan.

During a news conference last week, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, the spokesman for Pakistan’s military, warned the United States against taking any unilateral anti-terrorism action on Pakistani soil.

Pakistan’s military says it is working to build a fence along the Afghan border to curb infiltration. Officials also say that the estimated 2.7 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan need to be repatriated because their presence in the country complicates action against Taliban militants. Pakistani officials say fighters from the Taliban and other groups are able to hide in settlement camps by mingling with refugees.

Pakistani officials also insist that Trump has his figures wrong, taking aim at his claim that the United States had “foolishly” given it $33 billion since 2002.

“About $14 billion of that $33 billion was part of coalition support fund, which was compensation for services rendered,” said Miftah Ismail, an adviser to the prime minister on finance, revenue and economic affairs, in an interview. “Our billings were for $22 billion and we got only $14 billion. So we think the U.S. owes us $8 billion.”

The Trump administration is now considering whether to withhold $255 million in aid that it had delayed sending to Pakistan.

Ismail said the $255 million was a tiny fraction of Pakistan’s gross domestic product. “So, not a great deal of money.”

Pakistani leadership was also comforted by a strong expression of support from China.

Geng Shuang, the spokesman of China’s Foreign Ministry, said during a news conference Tuesday that “Pakistan has made great efforts and sacrifices for combating terrorism and made prominent contributions to the cause of international counterterrorism, and the international community should fully recognize this.” While there was characteristic chest thumping on television talk shows, with guests lampooning the U.S. threats, some critics said there was indeed a need for greater introspection in Pakistan.

“There is a need to fill the gaps in our policy,” Muhammad Nawaz Chaudhry, a former Pakistani ambassador, said in an interview. “We cannot take the bilateral relationship to a dead end.”

“We are living in denial,” he added. “The world, especially the United States, is not accepting our narrative.”

As an example, Chaudhry pointed to Hafiz Saeed, the founding leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group behind the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, who has continued to live openly in Pakistan despite long being one of the most-wanted militant leaders in the region, with a huge U.S. bounty on his head.

After Trump’s tweet Monday, a charity run by Saeed, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, was prohibited from collecting donations, according to a government order. But Chaudhry said that the order was just playing to the gallery.

“Rather than becoming belligerent,” he said, “we need to be realistic and go with the world opinion.”