Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and the United Nations, expressed support for President Donald Trump’s tough line against Islamabad and said the administration is likely studying various methods to put pressure on Pakistan for what he called its lack of cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
"I consider Trump's action positive and I support it,” he told RFE/RL in an interview conducted on January 4, referring to the president’s Twitter comment on New Year’s Day accusing Pakistan of "lies and deceit" and of providing a safe haven for terrorists operating in Afghanistan.
Islamabad rejected the accusations, saying it "cannot be held responsible for the collective failure in Afghanistan."
Khalilzad said, however, that "the conclusion that has been reached in the United States is that Pakistan does not cooperate."
"The United States has arrived at what the Afghans have been saying for a long time -- which is that Pakistan's policy toward Afghanistan, terrorism, and the fight against terrorism is not genuine."
The comments come as the White House has called on Pakistan to do more to fight terrorism and says it will announce "specific actions" to pressure Islamabad, possibly as soon as January 4.
Cutting Off Assistance?
The actions were not identified, but a senior administration official on January 3 said the moves would likely include a cutoff of "security assistance" to Pakistan, although it remains unclear how much or what type of assistance would be cut or for how long.
"A step that is being debated in the United States is how to pressure Pakistan's military," Khalilzad said in the interview.
He suggested that members of the Pakistan military and ISI intelligence service who "are directly involved in the war and work against Afghanistan" could be put on a blacklist to bar them and their families from travel to the United States and to have their assets under U.S. control frozen.
He also said the United States could potentially downgrade Pakistan’s status as a non-NATO ally, or even cut off all military assistance to Islamabad.
It could also stop providing funds that it currently gives Pakistan in return for allowing the transportation of goods through its territory to U.S. troops and personnel in Afghanistan.
Khalilzad said debate is also under way to consider potential financial pressure that could be exerted on Pakistan from international organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and by "U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and those in Europe and Asia."
The Reuters news agency quoted Miftah Ismail, Pakistan's de facto finance minister, as saying that the "aid cuts will not hurt us."
"That's not the leverage they have, because it is something they have reduced drastically over the years," he added.
Meanwhile, Major General Asif Ghafoor of the Pakistani military told the Geo Television station that Islamabad seeks to continue its cooperation with the United States but that it will not "compromise on national interests and prestige."
He said Pakistan would respond to any actions taken by the U.S. government against Pakistan, although he was not specific.
The Afghan-born Khalilzad served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama from 2007 to 2009. He was ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005 and to Iraq from 2005 to 2007.