ISLAMABAD – A senior Pakistani senator expressed disappointment Friday at the U.S. decision to suspend military aid, saying it will be detrimental to bilateral relations, while the government itself said it was too early to gauge the effects of the decision.
Nuzhat Sadiq, the chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, said Islamabad can manage without the United States as it did in the 1990s, but would prefer to move the troubled relationship forward.
"What the U.S. is doing now is not good for its policy against terrorism and for a lasting peace in this region," she said, adding that Pakistan has always "played a vital role in the war on terror."
The State Department's declaration on Thursday lambasted Pakistan for failing to take "decisive action" against Taliban militants targeting U.S. personnel in neighboring Afghanistan. U.S. officials have long complained that Pakistan tolerates or even encourages extremists, charges denied by Islamabad.
A statement issued by Pakistan's Foreign Ministry nearly 24 hours after the announced suspension of military aid said it's too early to tell what impact the U.S. decision will have on counter-terrorism initiatives in the region. But it said the war on terror, which is entering its 17th year, has cost Pakistan over $120 billion.
The statement said Pakistan's cooperation had helped "decimate" al-Qaida and drive other militant groups out of the lawless regions along the border.
Another statement on Friday rejected the U.S. decision to add Pakistan to a special watch list for violations of religious freedom, pursuant to 2016 legislation. That step does not carry any serious consequences. The Foreign Ministry said the designation is not based on "objective criteria."
Pakistan has recently begun constructing dozens of security posts along the border with Afghanistan as well as a fence to curtail cross-border movement. Afghanistan, which does not recognize the international border between the two countries, has objected to those moves.
The Foreign Ministry statement blamed Afghanistan for much of the unrest, saying it should accelerate efforts to repatriate the more than 1 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and curb the runaway opium production that finances the Taliban and other armed groups.
Mohammed Amir Rana, director of the independent Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, said that both Pakistan and the United States "need to realistically review their relationship and scale down expectation of each other."
"Pakistan cannot put all its eggs in the China basket," he added, referring to the billions of dollars China is investing in Pakistan on a major transportation and power grid.
Rana said the U.S. needs Pakistan if it wants to find a peaceful end to decades of turmoil, and if it wants to navigate the changing circumstances in neighboring Iran, which has seen anti-government protests in recent days.
The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is heavily reliant on supply corridors that run through Pakistan.
Dozens of Pakistanis meanwhile took part in protests against the United States in a number of cities. In some places, the protesters set fire to portraits of President Donald Trump, but there were no reports of violence.