The United States is reviewing ways to mitigate any Pakistani retaliation as they press Islamabad to counter militants, a senior US official said Friday, warning US action could go beyond a fresh freeze on aid.
Pakistan is a crucial gateway to US military supplies destined for US and other forces conducting a 16-year war in neighboring inland Afghanistan.
The Pentagon says Pakistan has not indicated that it would close its airspace or roads for military purposes, and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis downplayed concerns on Friday.
But Washington has just begun working on its new plan to suspend up to US $ 2 billion in US security aid announced Thursday. It came days after US President Donald Trump tweeted that Pakistan had rewarded past US aid with “nothing but lies and deception”.
Trump’s senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington hoped that the suspension of aid would be sufficient to voice its concern to Islamabad.
But the official warned that freezing was not the only tool America needed to pressure the country – suggesting that it could use other measures if needed.
“We think about many different things, not just the (financial) aid problem,” the official said.
“We are also considering Pakistan’s possible response … and we are looking for ways to deal with it and reduce the risks to relations.”
The official declined to detail what steps would be taken, including whether this could include possible unilateral US military action against militants in Pakistan.
But when Trump allowed the US military to re-enforce its war effort in Afghanistan, including the stationing of more US troops alongside the Afghan forces, the officer admitted a sense of urgency.
The United States has long accused the militant security forces in Pakistan of prolonging the war in Afghanistan. Insurgents, including those from the Haqqani network, were given the opportunity to plan attacks and rebuild their armed forces.
“We believe we are harming the Americans in Afghanistan, we simply can not ignore the protected areas if we want to make progress in Afghanistan,” the official said.
Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon that he was not worried about America’s ability to use Pakistan as a gateway to supply the US forces in Afghanistan.
“I’m not worried, no,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon, adding that he had received no indication from Pakistan that these paths could be cut. Mattis traveled to Pakistan last month.
“We are still working with Pakistan and we would restore aid if we see decisive movements against the terrorists – which are as much of a threat to Pakistan as they are to us.”
The United States has also said that some of the frozen aid could be released on a case-by-case basis, and none of it will be spent elsewhere – leaving the door open for full reconciliation.
The Pakistani response has hitherto been limited to harsh rhetoric, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has said that the United States is treating Pakistan as “a friend who always betrays.”
But opposition leader Imran Khan, a former cricket star who toppled as the next Pakistani prime minister, said it was time for Pakistan to “escape” the US.
The senior Trump government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that a Pakistani shutdown would significantly complicate US supply efforts in Afghanistan.
The official said the administration is developing “risk reduction plans”, but acknowledged that the study of a northern network of alternative routes used in the past was “still at a very broad level”.
“If anything were to happen with the basics of communication or airlines communicating through Pakistan, that would certainly be very difficult for the US and we would have to look for alternatives,” the official said.
“And it would not be easy.”