Islamabad/WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his administration's decision to stop hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Pakistan, saying the country does not do "a damn thing" for the US and its government had helped Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden hide near its city.

Referring to Laden and his former compound in Abbottabad, Trump in an interview to Fox News said "You know, living - think of this - living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan in what I guess they considered a nice mansion, I don't know, I've seen nicer."

The compound was demolished shortly after US Naval Special Warfare Development Group forces, in a daring helicopter raid, killed Laden there in 2011.

"But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there," Trump added. "And we give Pakistan $1.3 billion a year. ... (Laden) lived in Pakistan, we're supporting Pakistan, we're giving them $1.3 billion a year - which we don't give them anymore, by the way, I ended it because they don't do anything for us, they don't do a damn thing for us," he said.

The ties between the two countries strained after Trump, while announcing his Afghanistan and South Asia policy in August last year, hit out at Pakistan for providing safe havens to "agents of chaos" that kill Americans in Afghanistan and warned Islamabad that it has "much to lose" by harbouring terrorists.

In September, the Trump administration cancelled $300 million in military aid to Islamabad for not doing enough against terror groups active on its soil.

Trump also said that he has plans to visit Iraq and Afghanistan to meet American troops stationed there. "Well, I think you will see that happen. There are things that are being planned. We don't want to talk about it because of - obviously because of security reasons and everything else," he said.

Trump has been criticised by his political opponents for not visiting either Afghanistan or Iraq in the first two years of his presidency.

MISTRUST HOUNDS PAK-US

AFGHAN PEACE EFFORTS

Mistrust hounds peace efforts in Afghanistan by Pakistan and the United States as Kabul showed no intent to cooperate in the investigations into Superintendent Police Tahir Khan Dawar’s assassination, officials said.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry in Islamabad told The Nation that Afghanistan was instead blaming Pakistan of supporting terror inside the war-torn country.

One official said Afghanistan’s defiance had aggravated the mistrust among the three key parties. “US already has trust issues with Pakistan, Afghanistan has been levelling baseless allegations in the past and now they are not ready to cooperate with us (Pakistan) on the (SP’s) murder case. We (Pakistan) are naturally angry over the murder (of SP Dawar). People want the culprits to be punished,” he added.

Another official said Pakistan had discussed the issue with the US and they had promised to “consider our case.” But, he added: “We don’t have too much hope from the US. They always listen more to Afghanistan than us (Pakistan).”

The official said there still was not ‘big deadlock’ but the progress was affected due to the murder of the kidnapped police officer whose body was found in Afghanistan. Handing over the body of the deceased to Pakistani authorities was also delayed by Afghanistan, creating tension.

Lately, Pakistan and the US have enhanced cooperation to placate Taliban for peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan released several Taliban leaders under the new peace plan. Taliban control nearly half of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s government, jointly headed by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, has also been prickly about direct talks between Washington and the Taliban.

This month, the Afghan refugees’ stay in Pakistan was extended amid severe weather. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees decided to suspend the repatriation process of Afghan refugees in Pakistan for a few months due to cold weather.

The repatriation process will be halted from December 1 till February 28 next year due to drop in temperature and severe cold.

Officials suggest that nearly 1.4 million refugees had been issued ‘Proof of Registration’ cards and were being managed by the UNHCR. There were 880,000 refugees who had been issued Afghan citizenship cards under the National Action Plan to register undocumented persons living in Pakistan.

The United Nations refugee agency and local officials say there were 2.7 million Afghans, including 1.5 million registered as refugees, in Pakistan.

The displaced families have fled decades of conflict, ethnic and religious persecution, poverty and economic hardships in turmoil-hit Afghanistan.

Pakistan is actively supporting the Afghan peace efforts by three world powers - the US, China and Russia. US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells recently visited Pakistan where she discussed the bilateral and regional issues with the Pakistan officials.

Last week, Pakistan said it was on the same page with Russia to resolve the Afghanistan issue. Foreign Office Dr Mohammed Faisal said Pakistan had a policy of constructively engaging at all forums meant for Afghan peace and stability.

“In pursuance of the same policy we have participated in the Moscow Format, a consultation process initiated by the Russians. We believe that regional countries can play an important role in facilitating the Afghan peace process,” he said.

Faisal said Pakistan strongly believed that a military focused strategy cannot be successful in Afghanistan and the only solution to Afghan conflict lied in a politically negotiated settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan owned peace process.

Dr Faisal said Pakistan also actively participated in the Russian sponsored peace talks on Afghanistan to promote reconciliation process in that country. He said the repatriation of the Afghan refugees had been delayed due to the severe weather.

He said during talks, Pakistani side emphasized the need for a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict to achieve the objective of peace and stability in the region.

Additional Secretary at the Foreign Office Mohammed Aejaz had led a Pakistani delegation to Moscow for ‘Format Consultations on Afghanistan.’

Defence analyst Dr Mohammed Khan said the history of Pak-Afghan relationship has been mostly driven by unfortunate mistrust and blame game.

Pakistani security forces, he said, were undertaking counter-terrorism operations in Bajaur Agency, directed against terrorist groups that continue to attack Pakistan from their sanctuaries based on Afghan soil.

“Indeed the blame game and distrust are key areas which need the focus at three levels; the political governments, the security apparatus and between the people of the two countries. Afghan government must cooperate with Pakistan over the investigation of Dawar’s murder,” he said.

Brigadier Mehmood Shah (retd), another defence analyst, said Pakistan had always endorsed initiatives for peace in Afghanistan and on the other hand Afghanistan had been showing tilt towards India.

“The Afghanistan government should rethink its attitude and cooperate with Pakistan for its own benefits. There are the elements which are against all security measures and peace initiative,” he maintained.

Shah said Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies had joined hands to sabotage peace efforts and were using Afghan soil against Pakistan.