Pakistan is deepening its relationships with Russia and China, the country’s defence minister has said, as the fallout continues from the US decision to suspend $2bn in military aid to Islamabad.
Khurram Dastgir Khan told the Financial Times that his government was engaged in a “regional recalibration of Pakistan’s foreign and security policy” that threatens to undermine the US war effort in Afghanistan.
Mr Khan said Pakistan would look to Russia and China — as well as Europe — for new military supplies, as the US had “chosen castigation over co-operation”.
“We have already bought some Russian helicopters in the past three years,” he said. “This is what we call a regional recalibration of Pakistan’s foreign and security policy. It’s because of the unfortunate choice the United States continues to make.”
The US said this month that it would suspend security assistance to Pakistan worth $2bn because of what Washington sees as Islamabad’s refusal to do enough to tackle terrorism, particularly around the Afghan border.
President Donald Trump has reversed the policy of removing US troops from Afghanistan, in an effort to restore security to the country, which has suffered a string of deadly attacks in recent years — some apparently originating from across the Pakistani border.
Earlier this month Mr Trump tweeted that Pakistan had taken $33bn of US aid over 15 years and given back “nothing but lies and deceit”. Mr Khan called his comments “deeply offensive” and “counterproductive”.
Mr Khan added: “It is unfortunate that we are even discussing the numbers [the amount of aid] while Afghanistan slowly spirals out of the American and Afghan control.”
The row has become one of the biggest rifts in the 70-year alliance between the US and Pakistan, with Islamabad warning it would buy weapons from other countries. Mr Khan said Pakistan and the US still shared many interests but in Washington “lately the focus has been on areas of divergence”.
Asked about reports that Islamabad could buy a batch of Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia, Mr Khan said “not yet”, but added: “We have opened a dialogue with Russia, which traditionally we have never had, because we were firmly in the western camp.”
The backbone of the Pakistan air force currently consists of F-16 jets made by Lockheed Martin of the US, although Mr Khan said Islamabad had not received spare parts from the US for several years.
“We are using our own ingenuity and using other sources to keep the fleet up in the air,” he said. “It has been very difficult.”
Mr Khan added that there was “a discussion” about taking the more drastic step of cutting off US access to land and air routes into Afghanistan — though Pakistani officials have told the FT they were more likely to increase the fees instead.
Islamabad has already stopped sharing key parts of the intelligence it gathers from close to Afghanistan with the US.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s burgeoning relationship with Beijing is also causing concern in Washington, where officials are strengthening alliances with other countries in the region — including India — as a bulwark against Chinese regional ambitions.
China plans to spend $55bn in Pakistan on infrastructure projects as part of its plan to build a network of trade routes across the world, sparking concerns in the US that it could turn Pakistan into a client state of its northern neighbour.
Officials in Islamabad have been emboldened in their row with Washington by backing from Beijing.
Mr Khan said: “The fact that we have recalibrated our way towards better relations with Russia, deepening our relationship with China, is a response to what the Americans have been doing. And they have their own reasons. They want to use India, in our view, to contain China.”
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