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Rhetoric Rises as US Vows to Withhold Aid to Pakistan

(CNN) — In a sign of escalating tensions between the United States and Pakistan, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Pakistan of playing “a double game for years” and confirmed the administration will withhold $255 million in aid to the country.

“They work with us at times, and they also harbor the terrorists that attack our troops in Afghanistan,” Haley said Tuesday at a news conference. “That game is not acceptable to this administration.”

Her remarks came a day after President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of lying to and deceiving the US despite receiving billions in foreign aid.

The Pakistani government said earlier Tuesday that recent comments from US leaders were “completely incomprehensible” and could damage the trust between the countries.

Haley said the White House expects far more cooperation from the Pakistani government in the fight against terrorism. Trump is willing “to go to great lengths to stop all funding from Pakistan as they continue to harbor and support terrorism,” Haley said.

There was no immediate response from the Pakistani government.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi chaired a National Security Committee (NSC) meeting, attended by the country’s Foreign, Interior and Defense Ministers, along with chiefs of staff of the army, navy and air force.

In a statement following the meeting, the NSC expressed “deep disappointment” at recent US leadership comments, which it said were “completely incomprehensible as they contradicted facts manifestly, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between two nations built over generations, and negated the decades of sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation.”

It said there had been close interaction with the US following Trump’s initial policy statements regarding South Asia, and that recent visits to Pakistan by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis were “robust and forward-looking.”

The NSC claimed that Pakistan’s counterterrorism campaign had, at great financial cost, “served as a bulwark against the possible expansion of scores of terrorist organizations currently present in Afghanistan — a fact acknowledged by US authorities at the highest levels.”

“Even more importantly the huge sacrifices made by Pakistan, including the loss of tens of thousands of lives of Pakistani civilians and security personnel, and the pain of their families, could not be trivialized so heartlessly by pushing all of it behind a monetary value — and that too an imagined one,” the statement said.

Claiming the roots of terrorism in Afghanistan were due to corruption, drug production and ungoverned terrorist havens, “the Committee observed that Pakistan cannot be held responsible for the collective failure in Afghanistan and that blaming allies certainly does not serve the shared objective of achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region,” the NSC statement said.

The statement said that “despite all unwarranted allegations, Pakistan cannot act in haste and will remain committed to playing a constructive role towards an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, not just for the sake of its own people, but also for the peace and security of the region and international community”.

Following the NSC meeting, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif offered to pay for Trump to carry out an audit on his claim that Pakistan had received $33 billion in US aid over the past 15 years.

“He can hire a US based Audit firm on our expense to verify this figure & let the world know who is lying & deceiving,” Asif wrote in a tweet.

A separate tweet from the Government of Pakistan contained a graph showing a drastic decline number of its civilians killed by Islamist militants. It claimed the number of Pakistanis killed in terror attacks had dropped significantly over the past five years, and that the number of people killed in the country since 2003 had cost the state $123 billion.

Meanwhile, around 200 members of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a coalition of Islamist parties, demonstrated against the US in Karachi, holding “Dump Trump” placards and burning the American flag. A similar protest was held in Lahore, according to AFP.

On Monday, US Ambassador David Hale was summoned to Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry ministry to meet with senior officials, a US Embassy spokesman confirmed.

The White House said that it would continue to withhold $255 million in military aid to Pakistan out of frustration over what it has characterized as Islamabad’s obstinacy in confronting terrorist networks.