Downgrading US ties with Pakistan will degrade efforts to fight terror: PM

Portraits of Pakistani PM Shahid Khaqan Abbas, taken in Islamabad, Pakistan on Friday 15th September 2017 taken by Farhan Bokhari

NEW YORK: Reaffirming his government’s commitment to combat terrorism, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has warned that a reported US move to downgrade its relations with Pakistan will degrade Islamabad’s efforts to fight the menace.

The US risks undermining its military efforts in Afghanistan, encouraging terrorism and harming its own trade interests if it follows through on a threat to downgrade its relationship with Pakistan, he said in an interview with The Financial Times (FT).

Commenting on a recent FT’s report that the Trump administration was considering stripping Pakistan of its status as an ally because of a perceived failure to tackle terrorism, Abbasi warned that the hardline approach risked backfiring.

Speaking to the FT before flying to New York to attend the 72nd session of UN General Assembly, Abbasi said he found Washington’s Pakistan policy “confusing”. He had to rely on media reports to find out what President Donald Trump’s plans were for the region.

“The signals we get from Washington are confusing, but our message is very clear: we are committed to fighting terror and we will continue to fight terror,” Abbasi said. “All it will do [if the US downgrades Pakistan as an ally] is degrade our efforts to fight terror, and I am not sure if that will work for the US.”

Just three weeks after PM Abbasi took over, the newspaper noted, Trump announced a reversal in the US approach to Afghanistan. Instead of continuing the gradual drawdown of troops started under the administration of President Barack Obama, Trump said he would maintain, if not increase troop levels. During that speech, Trump also accused Pakistan of not doing enough to tackle cross-border terrorism. Since then, many in the region have been trying to work out what the new US policy means in practice, it said.

Abbasi told the FT he thought the number of American troops was likely to increase from 8,400 today to 12,000-13,000. But he admitted he found it hard to get clear information from the Trump administration.

“We mostly find these things out by reading them in the newspapers.” He said the US co-operation was vital for Pakistan’s counter-terrorism operations. “Some of our weapons are US-manufactured systems,” he said. “If they get degraded it will harm our ability to fight the terrorists.”