—-Minister says Pakistan has turned to Russia and China after US aid freeze
ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said Monday that his government is planning a ‘regional recalibration’ of its foreign policy after the United States (US) froze $2 billion in military aid to Pakistan.
The defence minister said that Pakistan was now deepening its relations with Russia and China as the fallout of the US decision to suspend military assistance continues.
During an interview with the Financial Times, the minister said that his government was engaged in a “regional recalibration of Pakistan’s foreign and security policy” that threatens to undermine the US war effort in Afghanistan. He said Pakistan would look to Russia and China — as well as Europe — for new military supplies, as the US had “chosen castigation over cooperation”. “We have already bought some Russian helicopters in the past three years,” he said. “This is what we call a regional recalibration of Pakistan’s foreign and security policy,” he added.
Earlier this month, the US authorities said that it would suspend security assistance to Pakistan worth $2 billion after Washington harshly reacted to Islamabad’s refusal to do more to tackle terrorism, particularly around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. President Donald Trump had reversed the policy of removing US troops from Afghanistan in an effort to restore peace in the country, which had otherwise suffered due to deadly attacks launched by Taliban forces, supposedly from the Pakistani side of the border.
Referring to Trump’s new year tweet that called Pakistan’s relations with the US “nothing but lies and deceit”, Defence Minister Dastgir called the US president’s comments “deeply offensive” and “counterproductive”. “It is unfortunate that we are even discussing the numbers [the amount of aid] while Afghanistan slowly spirals out of the American and Afghan forces control,” he added. The row had become one of the biggest rifts in the 70-year alliance between the US and Pakistan, with Islamabad warning Washington that it would buy weapons from other countries if US was not interested in continuing its relations with Pakistan.
Dastgir acknowledged that Pakistan and the US still shared mutual interests but said that in Washington “lately the focus has been on areas of divergence”. When asked about reports that Islamabad could buy a batch of Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia, the minister answered in the negative while adding, “We have opened a dialogue with Russia because we were firmly entrenched in the western camp for far too long.” The backbone of the Pakistan Air Force currently consists of F-16 jets made by Lockheed Martin of the US, although the minister said that Islamabad had not yet received spare parts from the US for several years.
“We are using our own ingenuity and using other sources to keep the fleet up in the air,” the minister said, adding that the shift had been difficult for Pakistan. He also said that there was “a discussion” about taking the more drastic step of cutting off the US access to land and air routes into Afghanistan — even though Pakistani officials have been hinting towards increasing the fees of transportation rather than blocking US land/air access to Afghanistan via Pakistan. Islamabad had already stopped sharing key intelligence with the US in connection with Afghanistan after relations between both the countries went sour at the beginning of the current year.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s burgeoning relationship with Beijing was also causing concern in Washington, where officials have been busy strengthening alliances with other countries in the region — including India — as a bulwark against Chinese regional ambitions. China plans to spend $55 billion in Pakistan on infrastructure projects as part of its plan to build a network of trade routes across the world, sparking concerns in the US that it could turn Pakistan into a client state of its northern neighbour.
Officials in Islamabad have been emboldened in their row with Washington after receiving backing from Beijing. Meanwhile, Dastgir said, “The fact that we have revisited our foreign policy to engage Russia and China, is a response to what the Americans have been doing. And they have their own reasons. In our view, they want to use India to contain China in the region.”