NEW YORK: Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan on Friday expressed concern over a White House statement, saying the United States (US) military has been given the authority to eliminate militant safe havens in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In an interview with the Urdu service of Voice of America (VOA), the defence minister said he had taken the statement “very seriously”.
The White House statement was released in an e-mail late Tuesday that listed President Donald Trump’s foreign policy accomplishments during his first year in office. “President Trump’s conditions-based South Asia Strategy provides commanders with the authority and resources needed to deny the terrorists safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the White House statement read.
Reacting to the statement, Dastgir Khan told VOA, “We want to make it clear to the US that Pakistan is a sovereign country and its sovereignty must be respected.” He also said, “Instead of using these words, which can be interpreted in any way, Pakistan should be consulted.” He added, “Statements like these are taking us away from our mission for establishing peace in Afghanistan.”
At a Pentagon press briefing on Thursday, Joint Staff Director Marine Corps Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie said the US military did not “contemplate military operations inside Pakistan.”
“Through a variety of measures, we look to gain Pakistani cooperation and assistance as we pursue operations in Afghanistan, but no, we’re not planning to conduct military operations inside Pakistan,” McKenzie said.
Pakistan-US relations have been deteriorating rapidly over the last few years and received further dents last month when the Trump administration decided to cut all security aid to Islamabad until the country took strong steps to deal with terrorist networks allegedly operating from its territory.
The US had long accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to the leaders of Afghan Taliban and other militant organisations. But Pakistan had always denied the accusation on different forums.
According to media reports, US officials were also discussing the possibility of expanding the scope of drone strikes conducted inside Pakistan. Since 2004, the US had carried out hundreds of drone attacks, mostly along the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan. The intensity of the attacks had subsided in recent years.
In his State of the Union address, Trump did not mention Pakistan directly but he did say that he had asked the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure that US assistance in dollars “always serve American interests, and should only go to America’s friends.”