ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s army chief told a top U.S. general the nation “felt betrayed” by criticism that it was not doing enough to fight terrorism, the Pakistani military said on Friday, after U.S. President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of “lies and deceit”.
U.S. Central Command chief General Joseph Votel told General Qamar Javed Bajwa during a telephone call this week that the United States was not contemplating any unilateral action inside Pakistan, the Pakistani army said in a statement.
Tension between the United States and Pakistan has grown over U.S. complaints that the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network that target American troops in Afghanistan are allowed to take shelter on Pakistani soil.
Trump’s administration last week announced the suspension of about $2 billion in security aid to nuclear-armed Pakistan - officially a U.S. ally - over accusations Islamabad is playing a double game in Afghanistan.
Islamabad denies this and accuses the United States of disrespecting its vast sacrifices - casualties have numbered in the tens of thousands - in fighting terrorism.
The U.S. aid suspension was announced days after Trump tweeted on Jan. 1 that the United States had foolishly given Pakistan $33 billion in aid over 15 years and was rewarded with “nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools”.
Trump’s tweet infuriated Pakistani officials and caught the rest of the U.S. administration off guard.
The Pakistani statement on Friday did not directly refer to Trump’s tweet.
“(Bajwa) said that entire Pakistani nation felt betrayed over U.S. recent statements despite decades of cooperation,” the army said, referring to the phone call between Bajwa and Votel.
The U.S. military’s Central Command did not comment on the content of their conversation. But it said the U.S. military was in “continuous communication” with Pakistan’s military, to include recurring conversations between Votel and Bajwa.
“We value mutual understanding of interests and concerns that we need to consider and might lead to a positive path forward,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Air Force Colonel John Thomas said.
A senior Trump administration official said last week that the United States was already examining ways to mitigate any Pakistani retaliation as it piles pressure on Islamabad to crack down on militants.
The official also cautioned that U.S. action to pressure Pakistan could extend beyond the new freeze in aid, if necessary.
The Pakistani assertion that Votel said no unilateral action inside Pakistan was being considered may have referred to the possibility of cross-border U.S. drone strikes and other military missions targeting Taliban and other militant figures outside the border area.
In 2016, a U.S. drone killed the then-leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, prompting protests from Islamabad of a violation of sovereignty.
And in 2011, a secret American raid in the military garrison city of Abbottabad killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on American cities that prompted the U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Since Trump took office, there have been several drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region but they have not so far gone deeper into Pakistani territory, though Islamabad believes that is on a menu of punitive actions the U.S. administration is considering.
However, the U.S. military is also concerned that the Pakistani army, which effectively runs foreign policy, might close the air and land corridors on which U.S.-led troops and Afghan forces in landlocked Afghanistan depend for supplies. So far, Pakistan has not done so.
Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Phil Berlowitz