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Mattis Says Not Concerned About Pakistan Retaliating Over U.S. Aid Cutoff

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says he's not worried about Islamabad retaliating against Washington over its suspension of as much as $2 billion in military aid this week.

"I'm not concerned, no," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon on January 5, when asked about concerns that the U.S. move might push Pakistan closer to China or prompt it to cut off the principal supply route for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which runs through Pakistan.

During a period of high tension between Washington and Pakistan six years ago, Islamabad closed overland routes into Afghanistan for several months.

Even before this week's suspension of military aid, Pakistan was developing closer ties with China, which has sold Islamabad military hardware and is financing major infrastructure projects in the country as part of Beijing's "Silk Road" initiative.

But Mattis dismissed those concerns, saying he got no indication from Pakistan that it might cut off the supply route for U.S. forces in Afghanistan when he visited Pakistan last month.

"We're still working with Pakistan, and we would restore the aid if we see decisive movements against the terrorists, who are as much a threat against Pakistan as they are to us."

U.S. officials have said the United States is prepared to withhold as much as $2 billion in military assistance and counterterrorism aid until Pakistan takes "decisive action" against Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network militants residing within its borders.

The Pakistani reaction to the suspension of aid so far been limited primarily to harsh rhetoric and some street demonstrations.

Some small protests broke out in Pakistan on January 5, including in Chaman, one of the two main crossings on the border with Afghanistan, where several hundred people gathered to chant slogans against the United States.

Pakistan's Foreign Office early on January 5 warned the United States that “arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements, and shifting goalposts are counterproductive.”

The ministry also sought to minimize the impact of the aid cut, saying Pakistan has spent more than $120 billion during the past 15 years on counterterrorism, largely from its own resources.

“We are determined to continue to do all it takes to secure the lives of our citizens and broader stability in the region,” the Foreign Office said.

A senior U.S. official briefing reporters in Washington on the condition of anonymity said on January 5 that "approximately $2 billion worth of equipment and coalition support funding is in play" in the aid suspension.

This official said Washington is also considering taking other measures to pressure Pakistan to go after militants, such as stripping Pakistan of its status as a "major non-NATO ally" or withdrawing U.S. support for International Monetary Fund financing for Pakistan.

The senior official acknowledged that Islamabad could make life difficult for the United States by cutting of its military supply routes to Afghanistan.

But he insisted that "unless we deal with the Pakistan sanctuary issue, it will undermine all of our other efforts in Afghanistan...We can no longer accept Pakistan's dual policies of fighting some terrorists while supporting others."

With reporting by AP, AFP, Radio Mashaal, and Reuters
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