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SOURCE: Hindustan Times

United States President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he wanted a “great relationship” with Pakistan and was looking forward to meeting the “new leadership”, but also said, serving as a reminder of where he and most Americans stood on ties with the one-time ally, “they (Islamabad) house the enemy… take care of them”.

Around this time in 2018, Trump had accused Pakistan of returning only “lies and deceit” for the billions of dollars it received from the US as aid. The chief complaint remained the same, then and now, that Pakistan is not taking decisive action against terrorists based on its soil.

Trump had suspended all security-related aid to Pakistan in an unprecedented escalation last January.

“We want to have a great relationship with Pakistan, but they house the enemy. They take care of the enemy, we just can’t do that,” Trump said, taking questions from reporters ahead of his cabinet’s first meeting of year, the first hour of which was aired live by news channels and publications.

“When we give money to Pakistan,” he said, “$1.3 billion. I ended that. Lot of people don’t know that — because they (Pakistan) haven’t been fair to us.”

The exact amount of the aid cut has evolved from nearly $2 billion, from the time of the announcement in 2017, to $1.66 billion, as conveyed by US department of defense last November. And now, the president has said, it’s $1.3 billion. Some Pakistan watchers say it’s higher than all of the above.

But the president has showed a willingness to engage with the Pakistani leadership. “So, I look forward to meeting with the folks from… the new leadership in Pakistan. We will be doing that in the not too distant future.”

But the thought of Pakistan’s lack of convincing courter-terrorism measures never left him. “I ended $1.3 billion that we paid like it was water. We just paid it (to) Pakistan. So, I ended that.”

Trump has not met Imran Khan yet and there was no word on when they are likely to meet, and where. But the president did write to the Pakistan PM recently seeking more cooperation on Afghanistan, and the letter has been generally received well in Islamabad, as a sign of softening on the US side.

But the Trump administration has conveyed to the Imran Khan government the primacy it places on counter-terrorism, leading to some initial irritation in Islamabad, which took the unusual step of demanding a revision of a US readout of the first phone call between Khan and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, that said they had discussed terrorism as well.

Islamabad never got the retraction, but did get the message.