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Pakistan Reacts To U.S. Suspension Of Security Assistance

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The White House has suspended almost all of its security assistance to Pakistan. This follows days of tensions that began with a tweet by President Trump accusing Pakistan of deceit for taking billions in U.S. aid while harboring militants that are fighting U.S. forces across the border in Afghanistan. For more, we're joined by NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad. Good morning, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So the White House says it's freezing hundreds of millions of dollars here. How is Pakistan reacting to this?

HADID: So Pakistani officials seem to have been taken by surprise by the initial New Years tweet by Trump and the subsequent public humiliation they say they've experienced. But they weren't really that surprised that there would be some sort of announcement in a cut in military aid. This relationship has been rocky for years, and it took a nosedive in August, when President Trump announced his new strategy for Afghanistan. And that's the first time he publicly accused Pakistan of harboring militants. That's really set the tenor for what's happened.

MARTIN: Which they do, by the way. I mean, the Obama administration also castigated Pakistan.

HADID: Certainly, these are not new accusations. It's just - it's the tenor and the sense that this is a public browbeating that has really poisoned relations as far as I can tell from Islamabad. But there are efforts to salvage it. This morning, I ran down to the Foreign Ministry to speak to the spokesperson, Mohammad Faisal, and he said this.

MOHAMMAD FAISAL: This was anticipated that the difference of opinion on Afghanistan would be complex. The efforts are still underway to find common ground and identify steps that can be taken jointly to move forward.

MARTIN: So that sounds optimistic, but this cut in military aid, I mean, is it likely to generate any kind of change? I mean, that's presumably what the Trump administration is hoping, that it's going to change Pakistan's behavior. Is that likely?

HADID: That's optimistic. Pakistanis say that they're trying to find common ground. They're not saying that they're going to change their policies. And certainly, analysts here say that this public browbeating might make Pakistanis more defiant.

I was speaking to Ammara Durrani (ph). She's a sociologist and writer on current affairs. She really reflected something that many Pakistanis here say is that there's a certain anger that Pakistanis feel here about that - they feel like they're being singled out for supporting the Taliban. That's the accusation. But, you know, Russia and Iran are also believed to be supporting the Taliban. Qatar, a U.S. ally, has an office for them. So in their narrative, they feel like they're being unfairly singled out. Here, you can have a listen.

AMMARA DURRANI: To say that Pakistan should not be talking to the Taliban, that may sound absurd and weird if all the actors in the region and beyond the region are already engaging the Taliban for a possible negotiation.

HADID: And so she says out of all these countries, Pakistan has the biggest stake, which is why they have - they believe to have some sort of engagement.

MARTIN: Right. So now, America is punishing Pakistan. Does Pakistan have any leverage to punish America?

HADID: It can pinch. It can shut down the air route and the land route that America uses to ferry troops and supplies into Afghanistan. Without that, the war in Afghanistan would be a lot more expensive. But that's a very dramatic move. I don't get a sense here that anyone wants to go that far yet.

MARTIN: NPR's Diaa Hadid reporting from Islamabad this morning. Thanks so much, Diaa.

HADID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.