The US risks undermining its military efforts in Afghanistan, encouraging terrorism and harming its own trade interests if it follows through on a threat to downgrade its relationship with Pakistan, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has warned.
Just days after the Financial Times revealed that the Trump administration was considering stripping Pakistan of its status as an ally because of a perceived failure to tackle terrorism, Abbasi warned this hardline approach risked backfiring.
Speaking to the Financial Times as he prepared to fly to New York to attend the UN general assembly, Abbasi said he found Washington’s Pakistan policy “confusing”, adding that he has to rely on media reports to find out what President Donald Trump’s plans are for the region.
“The signals we get from Washington are confusing, but our message is very clear: we are committed to fighting terror and we will continue to fight terror,” Abbasi said.
“All it will do [if the US downgrades Pakistan as an ally] is degrade our efforts to fight terror, and I am not sure if that will work for the US.”
Abbasi said he thought the number of American troops in Afghanistan was likely to increase from 8,400 today to 12,000-13,000. But he admitted he found it hard to get clear information from the Trump administration: “We mostly find these things out by reading them in the newspapers.”
The prime minister is reported to be hoping to meet Mike Pence, the US vice-president, while in New York; another meeting is being planned between Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s foreign minister, and Rex Tillerson, his American counterpart.
Abbasi outlined his approach for these talks, saying US co-operation was vital for Pakistan’s counter-terrorism operations. “Some of our weapons are US-manufactured systems,” he said. “If they get degraded it will harm our ability to fight the terrorists.”
He added that one option to apply pressure on the US was not to buy new F-16 fighter jets, which are made by the American company Lockheed Martin and have become the mainstay of the Pakistani air force.
Pakistan insists it is doing all it can to eliminate terror groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, which operate around the border with Afghanistan.
But Abbasi also admitted the limitations of its operations, saying the bombers who killed more than 90 people in the attack in Kabul in May were likely to have come from Pakistan. “I don’t know all the details, but it seems three or four people crossed over the border. There was a vehicle which travelled from that area to Kabul and was parked in an embassy compound before it blew up,” he said. “We have 250,000 troops fighting there, but we don’t have control of the full area. [Militants] often cross the border from the other side and attack our people. If the Afghan army cannot control them, and US forces cannot control them, what are we supposed to do?”