Pakistan Likely to Keep Open Supply Routes to Afghanistan

Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, visits North Waziristan, Pakistan on Aug. 19. (Pakistan Army photo)
Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, visits North Waziristan, Pakistan on Aug. 19. (Pakistan Army photo)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday that Pakistan was likely to keep open supply routes to U.S. troops in Afghanistan despite the Trump administration’s cutoff of military aid.

“No, I’m not concerned about them,” Mattis said of what the military calls the G-LOCS, or ground lines of communication, and the A-LOCS, or air lines of communication through Pakistani airspace.

In previous disputes with Washington, Pakistan has occasionally squeezed the G-LOCS running from the port of Karachi up through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, but Mattis, who was in Pakistan last month, said he had received no indications from his Pakistani counterparts of any response that would affect the supply routes.

“I don't have any at this time, no,” he said. Mattis also noted that Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, had spoken Thursday with Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, to discuss the potential impact of the aid cutoff.

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In a New Year’s Day Tweet, President Donald Trump said: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Since he took office, Trump has been viewed with suspicion in Islamabad because of his courting of India, Pakistan’s traditional enemy.

In his address to the nation in August on the new Afghanistan strategy, Trump said "We appreciate India's important contributions to stability in Afghanistan. We want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development."

The U.S. has repeatedly accused Pakistan of harboring terrorists from the Haqqani network, a charge Pakistan denies, and of maintaining relations with the Afghan Taliban and providing them with safe havens in Quetta and Peshawar.

On Thursday, the Trump administration announced that nearly all military aid to Pakistan, about $2 billion annually, would be frozen.

On Friday, a senior administration official, speaking to reporters on background, said that steps in addition to the military aid cutoff were under consideration.

“The U.S. does have a range of tools that we're looking at beyond just the security assistance issue to deal with Pakistan and to try to convince it to crack down on the Taliban and Haqqani network," the official said.

“Certainly, no one should doubt the U.S. resolve to address this threat and all options, I would say, will be on the table," the official said.

The aid cutoff announcement triggered a furious response from Pakistan. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif called the United States "a friend who always betrays.”

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi charged that the U.S. was grossly overestimating the amount of aid provided. “The aid in the last five years at least has been less than $10 million a year. It is a very, very insignificant amount,” he said.

Abbassi also said that the U.S. was promoting a “fallacy” in charging that Pakistan was soft on terrorism. “We are today fighting the largest war on terror in the world. We are fighting the world’s war on terror with our own resources. That is something the world has to appreciate,” he said.

Abbassi said that Pakistan had lost 6,500 of its troops and 37,000 civilians in combating terrorism. In addition, “We have suffered a loss of over $120 billion in our economy,” he said. “We just want the world to know that Pakistan is on the forefront on the war on this terror.”

In his informal session with Pentagon reporters Friday, Mattis agreed that terrorists had inflicted huge losses on Pakistan.

“I think many of you are aware that Pakistan has lost more troops total than all of NATO, coalition, combined in the fight against them,” Mattis said. “But we've had disagreements, strong disagreements on some issues, and we're working those.”

The dialogue with Pakistan was continuing despite the aid cutoff, Mattis said. He said that “we're still working with Pakistan, and we would restore the aid if we see decisive movements against the terrorists, who are as much of a threat against Pakistan as they are against us.”

Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com

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