South Asia

Pakistan threatens to leave Afghan border after US cuts

Pakistani soldiers in Kurram tribal region (11 July 2011)
Image caption Pakistan is a vital ally for the US, but ties have deteriorated

Pakistan's defence minister has said the country could withdraw troops from the Afghan border in response to a US cut in military aid.

Ahmed Mukhtar said Pakistan "cannot afford" to keep troops in the remote region without the financial support.

The US has said it is cutting $800m (£500m) in aid over "difficulties" in its relationship with Pakistan.

On Monday, Pakistan said the cuts would not affect is operations against al-Qaeda and other militant groups.

The money is about a third of the total annual US military aid Islamabad receives. Much of the aid is intended to reimburse Pakistan for deploying troops along the Afghan border, where militants seek sanctuary.

"If at all things become difficult, we will just get all our forces back," Mr Mukhtar told Express 24/7 television in an interview to be aired on Tuesday night.

"If Americans refuse to give us money, then okay. I think the next step is that the government or the armed forces will be moving from the border areas.

"We cannot afford to keep military out in the mountains for such a long period."

Public anger

The BBC's Ilyas Khan in Islamabad said that while the defence minister's statement does worsen the ongoing row between the US and Pakistan, there is no likelihood of the army being pulled out.

Pakistan is currently engaged in two major military operations in Mohmand and Kurram, and recently reasserted its commitment to combating terror groups in the region.

If the army were to withdraw, it would create a security vacuum in the border region and would complicate US plans to gradually withdraw troops from Afghanistan, our correspondent adds.

Pakistan is a vital ally for the US, but ties have deteriorated following the killing of Osama Bin Laden in May.

Islamabad is angry that it was not told about the US raid in advance, while the US has questioned how Bin Laden was able to live undetected in a major garrison town.

There is also growing public anger in Pakistan over the US use of drone attacks on suspected militant targets, which often cost civilian lives.

Pakistan recently expelled more than 100 US military trainers and has threatened to shut down a CIA base.

On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said the US was holding back "some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give" until the two countries had worked their way through "difficulties" in their relationship.

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