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US president cannot afford to walk away from Pakistan: NYT

NEW YORK: With the US latest move to suspend roughly $2 billion in security assistance to Pakistan until it acts against the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, a leading American newspaper warned that US President Donald Trump cannot afford to walk away from Pakistan.

In its editorial, The New York Times wrote, “President Trump cannot afford to walk away from Pakistan, which has often provided vital intelligence and has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal.”

It said the US president’s “bombast and the precipitous” way the decision seems to have been made have led to doubts that he has a serious plan for managing the ramifications of this move.

The editorial said: “Almost every military flight into Afghanistan goes through Pakistani airspace. Most supplies travel along Pakistani roads and rails. Pakistan could shut down American access at any moment.”

Underscoring Pakistan’s strategic importance, the newspaper suggested that Trump could marshal “diplomatic tools” to see if more “constructive cooperation” with Pakistan is possible.

The newspaper said whether Pakistan will cooperate after freezing military assistance remains to be seen. Some Pakistani officials reacted harshly but Foreign Ministry statement talked about the need for mutual respect and patience to address the common threat of terrorism, it added.

Pakistan is a crucial gateway for US military supplies destined for US and other troops fighting a 16-year-old war in neighboring, landlocked Afghanistan.

Mattis plays down concerns

A day earlier, Mattis, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said he was not concerned about America’s ability to use Pakistan as a gateway to resupply US forces in Afghanistan.

“I‘m not concerned, no,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon, adding he had not gotten any indication from Pakistan that it might cut off those routes. Mattis traveled to 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.”

The United States has also said 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 to full reconciliation.

The Pakistani reaction has so far been limited to harsh rhetoric, with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif saying the United States was behaving toward Pakistan as “a friend who always betrays.”

But opposition leader Imran Khan, a former cricket star tipped as the next Pakistani prime minister, said it was time for Pakistan to “delink” from the United States.

The senior Trump administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity acknowledged that a Pakistani cut-off would greatly complicate US resupply efforts in Afghanistan.

The official said the administration was developing “risk mitigation plans,” but acknowledged that examination of a northern network of alternative routes used in the past was “still at a very broad level.”

“If something were to happen to the ground lines of communication or air lines of communication through Pakistan, certainly that would be very difficult for the US and we would have to look for alternatives,” the official said.

“And it would not be easy.”

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