Pakistan army chief: US general called, offered assurances

FILE -- In this Nov. 29, 2016 file photo released by Inter Services Public Relations, the public relations arm of the Pakistani army, Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa attends the Change of Command ceremony in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Bajwa says he received a phone call from the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Vogel, offering assurances that the United States would not unilaterally hit targets inside Pakistan. (Inter Services Public Relations via AP)

ISLAMABAD — Head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel spoke by phone with Pakistan's army chief offering assurances that the United States will not unilaterally strike targets inside Pakistan, a spokesman for Pakistan's military said on Friday.

In a statement, spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said that Votel in his call to Gen. Qamer Javed Bajwa reiterated Washington's concern about Afghans using Pakistan as a staging ground for attacks inside Afghanistan.

Ghafoor did not state exactly when the conversation took place, saying the call was made to Bajwa earlier this week.

The dialogue comes a week after the U.S announced its suspension of security assistance to Pakistan for failing to take "decisive action" against Taliban militants targeting U.S. personnel in neighboring Afghanistan.

The announcement followed President Donald Trump's surprising New Year's day tweet, in which he said Washington had "foolishly" given Pakistan $33 billion in aid over the past 15 years and in return received "deceit and lies."

According to Friday's statement, Bajwa told Votel that Pakistan would not request the resumption of military aid from the U.S.

It said both generals spoke of the need for continued cooperation in the war on terror.

The statement added that Bajwa told Votel that "the entire Pakistani nation" felt betrayed by the recent U.S. statements despite decades of cooperation.

It said Bajwa, however, assured Votel that Pakistan would continue its counter-terrorism efforts even without U.S. financial support in accordance with the Islamic nation's security interests. It added that Bajwa told Votel Pakistan was fully aware of the U.S. concerns regarding activities of Afghan nationals in Pakistan and is already undertaking several operations against militants.

It said Bajwa assured Votel that Pakistan will keep supporting all initiatives for peace in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been a key ally of the United States in war on terror since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., but relations have been strained between the two sides since Trump accused Islamabad of harboring terrorists.

Pakistan responded to Trump's accusations by convening a National Security Committee meeting, which was attended by Pakistan's prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Bajwa. The committee at the time said that the U.S. was scapegoating Pakistan for its own failure to bring peace to Afghanistan after 16 years of war.

Washington has long accused Islamabad of harboring militants, a charge Pakistan's government and military routinely deny.

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