Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Pakistan that it risks losing some U.S. financial aid if a key supply route to Afghanistan remains blocked by protesters.
Hundreds of Pakistanis have clogged roads in Peshawar and other northwestern towns to protest U.S. drone strikes, leading the Pentagon to announce a week ago that it was halting shipments on one of the main routes into Afghanistan.
Hagel told Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a meeting in Islamabad that reimbursements to Pakistan for Afghan war costs may be jeopardized in Congress by the holdup of supplies, according to a U.S. defense official who discussed the meetings on condition of anonymity. Sharif said he’d address the protests, according to Pentagon spokesman Carl Woog.
Pakistan has received more than $10 billion in Coalition Support Funds, making it the program’s biggest recipient, according to the Pentagon.
The U.S. is seeking to ensure stability in South Asia as it prepares to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan next year. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has declined to sign an agreement that would keep some American troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Before his Pakistan stopover, Hagel spent two days in Afghanistan without meeting Karzai.
Sharif told Hagel that drone strikes were “counter-productive to our efforts to combat terrorism and extremism on an enduring basis,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Former cricketer Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which governs the northwestern area where NATO’s goods pass through, saw Hagel’s visit as evidence that the blockade that began on Nov. 23 had successfully pressured the U.S., according to information secretary Shireen Mazari. The party plans to continue halting supplies until the U.S. stops drone strikes or Sharif takes a firmer stance, she said.
“The only way to stop terrorism is dialogue,” Khan told a gathering of business leaders in New Delhi on Dec. 7.
A CIA drone strike on Nov. 1 killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban in what the government in Islamabad described as an attempt to derail peace talks in the nation. Pakistan’s foreign ministry summoned U.S. ambassador Richard Olson to protest the attack after the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, head of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan group.
Hagel’s visit to Pakistan came a day after Karzai and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani agreed in Tehran to a cooperation accord on peace and security issues, Karzai’s office said in a statement. Rouhani said Afghans should be in charge of security, according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA.
Hagel said this weekend he saw no benefit in meeting with Karzai in Afghanistan amid his shifting demands for completing a security deal. The Pentagon chief did meet with Afghan Defense Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi and commander of the Afghan National Army General Sher Mohammad Karimi, and discussed the need for the security pact.
The accord would let U.S. forces train and assist Afghanistan’s army after 2014, when most U.S. troops will come home from a war now in its 13th year. Without Karzai’s backing, U.S. forces might be withdrawn after 2014, Hagel said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday.
“Unless we have the security of an agreement to protect our forces, then we’ll have no choice,” he said. “We will not be able to stay.”