KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan has rejected U.S. criticism of its efforts to fight terrorism, saying it should not be made a scapegoat for the failure of the U.S. military to win the war in Afghanistan.
U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled his policy for Afghanistan on Monday, stepping up the military campaign against Taliban insurgents and singling out Pakistan for harbouring them.
U.S. officials later warned that aid to Pakistan might be cut and Washington might downgrade nuclear-armed Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, in order to pressure it to do more to help bring about an end to America’s longest-running war.
Pakistan’s powerful military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, met U.S. Ambassador David Hale on Wednesday and told him Pakistan was actively working for peace in Afghanistan.
“We have done a lot ... and shall keep on doing our best, not to appease anyone but in line with our national interest and national policy,” Bajwa was quoted in an army press statement as telling Hale.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif added his voice to a chorus of indignation over the U.S. criticism, reiterating Pakistan’s denial that it harbours militants.
“They should not make Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures in Afghanistan,” Asif said in an interview with Geo TV late on Tuesday.
A group of influential Pakistani clerics including Sami-ul Haq, who runs a Islamic seminary where many senior Afghan Taliban studied, angrily condemned the United States.
“America is the enemy of the Muslim ummah (community),” Haq told a press briefing along with other clerics who preach a jihadist doctrine.
“The government of Pakistan should quit the alliance for war against so-called terrorism,” Haq added. “The heavens will not fall if America gets angry with us.”
Pakistan has for years been battling homegrown Islamist militants who are seeking to overthrow the state with bomb attacks and assassinations.
But critics say the Pakistani military nurtures other Islamist factions, including the Afghan Taliban, which are seen as useful to Pakistan’s core confrontation with old rival India.
Asif said Pakistan had suffered great losses from Islamist militancy - the government estimates there have been 70,000 casualties in militant attacks, including 17,000 Pakistanis killed - since Pakistan joined the U.S. “war on terrorism” after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The relationship between the two countries has endured periods of extreme strain during the past decade, especially after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in a 2011 raid.
Last year, a U.S. drone strike killed then-Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in southwestern Pakistan, an attack Islamabad protested as a violation of its sovereignty. Pakistan has denied knowledge that either bin Laden or Mansour were in the country.
Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Drazen Jorgic, Robert Birsel and Mark Trevelyan