Following up on President Donald Trump's threats, the US announced on Thursday that it would suspend nearly all security aid to Pakistan, an across-the-board freeze that is the most tangible sign yet of Washington's frustration with the country's refusal to crack down on terrorist networks operating there.
The US announced that it was freezing most security aid and the delivery of military equipment because Islamabad continues to shelter terrorists despite several warnings from President Donald Trump and other leaders.
The decision, which could affect as much as $1.3 billion in annual aid, came three days after President Trump complained on Twitter that Pakistan had ''given us nothing but lies & deceit'' and accused it of providing ''safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.''
"We will not be delivering military equipment or transfer security-related funds to Pakistan," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Thursday. The freeze will be enforced "until the Pakistani Government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network", she said.
Nauert said that Pakistan's failure to take action against Lakshar-e-Taiba leader Hafeez Saeed - the alleged mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks - was not a factor in the action. "To my knowledge, that has nothing to do with that," she said.
Administration officials emphasized that the freeze was temporary and could be lifted if Pakistan changed its behaviour. The United States is urging the Pakistani government to cut off contact with militants and reassign intelligence agents with links to extremists, among other measures.
United States officials had also demanded access to a member of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, who was captured by Pakistani forces during the rescue of a Canadian-American family in October, and were angered when Pakistan rejected the request.
''It's hard to argue the status quo has been working, so we are looking at changing it to advance our security objectives,'' said Brian H Hook, the State Department's director of policy planning.
Though the move was months in the planning, officials said the announcement was rushed by a few days to catch up to Trump's Twitter post on Monday, which drew a toxic reaction from Pakistan.
The move also came after considerable internal debate, officials said, according to The New York Times. The Pentagon is worried that the Pakistani government could retaliate by denying access to routes in Pakistan that it uses to supply roughly 14,000 American troops deployed in Afghanistan.
After Trump's tweet, the foreign minister of Pakistan, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, said that there was a need to revisit the nature of its relations with the United States. In an interview with a local news network, he said the United States was acting like neither an ally nor a friend.
The suspension includes about $1.1 billion in Coalition Support Funds, which the Pentagon provides to help defray the costs of counterterrorism operations in Pakistan. Under the freeze, the United States also will not deliver military equipment to the country. It had earlier held up $255 million in State Department military financing.
Nauert said some exceptions could be made ''on a case-by-case basis if determined to be critical to national security interests.'' Internal government talking points that were obtained by The New York Times said the suspension was ''a freeze, and does not reflect intent to reprogram funds at this time'' - meaning that the money will not be diverted to other uses.
''Pakistan has the ability to get this money back in the future, but they have to take decisive action,'' Nauert said.
The administration said that the freeze did not apply to civilian assistance programmes. The United States has provided Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid since 2002, a program that ramped up sharply in the wake of the 11 September attacks as the United States viewed Pakistan as a key ally in fighting Islamic militants.
Earlier on Thursday, the State Department announced that it had placed Pakistan on a special watch list for what it described as severe violations of religious freedoms. The designation was part of the administration's annual accounting of violations by countries as required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
Attacks on religious minorities have increased in Pakistan in recent years, reflecting a growing religious intolerance and driven in part by a proliferation of religious schools funded by Saudi Arabia.
The United States previously has frozen military aid without forcing a change in Pakistan's policies. In July 2011, two months after an American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the Obama administration suspended about $800 million in aid. Relations with Pakistan did not improve.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has dragged India into its war of words with the US. Pakistan's foreign minister Khawaja Asif said the US is "trumpeting India's lies and deceit", that the two countries have a "nexus" and that the US "is speaking the language of Indians". "The United States and India have a nexus, they understand their interests are same in the region," said Asif, in an interview with Geo TV on Thursday.