Pakistan threatens to reduce troops at Afghan border

Pakistan threatens to reduce troops at Afghan border

Pakistan's defence minister threatened to pull back troops from the Afghan border in reaction to the suspension of military assistance by the United States, a report said Tuesday.

The Express Tribune on Tuesday quoted Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar saying that Pakistan would withdraw troops from nearly 1,100 security posts near the Afghan border if the aid were suspended, DPA reported.

"The next step would be that the government or the armed forces will pull back the forces from the border areas," he said, adding that the military could not afford to keep its soldiers out in the mountainous border areas.

William Daley, the White House chief of staff, said on Sunday that the US had difficult relations with Pakistan and until "we get through these difficulties" Washington would hold back around 800 million dollars of military aid to Pakistan.

The minister said 300 million dollars of the proposed aid pays for deployment of troops in the troubled tribal areas along the border.

Relations between Pakistan and the US have been strained severely since Osama bin Laden was killed in a raid at the north-western city of Abbottabad on May 2.

Islamabad says the US commando action against the al-Qaeda chief was unilateral and unauthorized, while Washington has questioned Pakistan's will to fight Islamist militancy.

Washington also suspected that bin Laden had the support of some elements in Pakistani intelligence agencies, and has urged a full investigation to know how he lived in the garrison city for about five years without the knowledge of officials.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that Pakistan must act more aggressively against extremism for the US aid to be restored.

"The government of Pakistan must take certain steps, and we have outlined those steps, to ensure that we can deliver all of the military assistance," Clinton said after meeting with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Amid poisoned relations, Pakistan recently expelled more than 100 military trainers from the US and Britain.

Islamabad has also asked the US to vacate Shamsi air base in the south-western part of the country that has been used to stage drone attacks against insurgents' hideouts in the tribal belt near the Afghan border.

Chief military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas dismissed the US threat to suspend the aid, saying that Pakistan could continue efforts against Islamist insurgency on its own.

"We have been doing these operations on our own in the tribal areas and we have sufficient resources to continue them," he said.

He also said the operations were not only in the interest of Pakistan but also the US and the world at large.

The suspension of military aid could also cast doubt on the future of 1.5 billion dollars of civilian aid. The US has provided some 21 billion dollars in civilian and military aid to Pakistan since 2001.

Analysts said the confused relations could also intensify mistrust in a country where the US government's policies, particularly towards Muslim countries, are viewed with much suspicion.

Actions against al-Qaeda's remaining leadership believed to be hiding in Pakistan could be jeopardized as well, they said.

Some analysts believe the aid suspension will not affect Pakistan if it is short term, but would adversely affect its counter-terrorism over a longer period.

"It seems that the US decision to cut back aid to Pakistan is a standard pressure tactic which the donors apply to test the will of the countries, but the two countries will try to solve it through diplomacy," defence analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi said.

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