WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump lashed out at Pakistan on Monday in his first tweet of 2018, threatening to cut off aid over what he said were its "lies and deceit" in offering "safe haven to terrorists."
The tweet brought a quick and pointed rejoinder from Pakistan, which said it had done much for the United States, helping it to "decimate" Al-Qaeda, while getting only "invective & mistrust" in return.
US-Pakistani ties, long contentious, have taken a nosedive under Trump, who in August declared that "Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror."
"The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools," Trump said in an early-morning tweet.
"They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!"
The Trump administration told Congress in August it was weighing whether to withhold $255 million in earmarked aid to Islamabad over its failure to crack down more effectively on terror groups in Pakistan.
Last month, Trump hinted that he could cut off the aid.
"We make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help," he said in unveiling his national security strategy.
And in late December, Vice President Mike Pence told American troops during a visit to Afghanistan, "President Trump has put Pakistan on notice."
Of foremost concern is Islamabad's attitude toward the powerful Haqqani network, accused of some of the most lethal attacks on US forces in Afghanistan and dubbed by America's former top military officer Mike Mullen as a "veritable arm" of Pakistani intelligence.
The group was responsible for kidnapping a Canadian-American couple and holding them from 2012 to 2017, when Pakistani forces secured their release in what they said was as a rescue operation but some US officials reportedly described as a "negotiated handover."
Trump hailed their return as a clear sign of progress, but his attitude has since hardened.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif responded angrily to Trump's tweet, telling Geo television in an Urdu-language interview: "The United States should hold its own people accountable for its failures in Afghanistan."
He said all funds from the US had been "properly audited" and that "services (were) rendered."
And Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan tweeted that Pakistan "as anti-terror ally has given free to US: land & air communication, military bases & intel cooperation that decimated Al-Qaeda over last 16yrs, but they have given us nothing but invective & mistrust."
'AGENTS OF CHAOS'
Islamabad has repeatedly denied the accusations of turning a blind eye to militancy, lambasting the United States for ignoring the thousands who have been killed on its soil and the billions spent fighting extremists.
Lisa Curtis, who is the director for South and Central Asia on Trump's National Security Council, co-authored an article with former Pakistani ambassador Husain Haqqani last year which said that the "activities and operations of diverse terror groups on and from Pakistani soil, and the government's failure to rein them in, threaten vital US national security interests in the region."
They added that "Pakistani authorities –- specifically the country's military leaders, who control its foreign and security policies –- need to take a comprehensive approach to shutting down all Islamist militant groups that operate from Pakistani territory, not just those that attack the Pakistani state."
Trump first signaled that the US was reassessing its fractious relations with Pakistan in August, when he accused Islamabad of harboring "agents of chaos."
The remarks triggered a series of high-level diplomatic meetings in the US and Pakistan, but Islamabad has given few signs of concessions.
After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, Washington forged a strategic alliance with Islamabad to help in its fight against extremists.
But US leaders have often complained that Pakistan, which once supported the Taliban, has done too little to help.