Hafiz Saeed walks to court before a Pakistani court ordered his release from house arrest in Lahore, in November 2017. Picture: REUTERS
Hafiz Saeed walks to court before a Pakistani court ordered his release from house arrest in Lahore, in November 2017. Picture: REUTERS

Islamabad/Washington — Pakistan has summoned the US ambassador, an embassy spokesman said on Tuesday, a rare public rebuke after US President Donald Trump lashed out at Islamabad with threats to cut aid over “lies” about militancy.

The US would continue to withhold $255m in military aid to Pakistan as the White House reviews the nation’s "level of co-operation" in fighting terrorism, a National Security Council spokesperson said.

The announcement came just hours after US President Donald Trump in a tweet said the US had "foolishly" given more than $33bn in aid to the country and gotten only "lies and deceit" in return.

Trump had "made it clear" that he expected Pakistan to take strong action to fight terrorists and extremism, the spokesperson said.

Ambassador David Hale was asked to go to the foreign office in the Pakistani capital on Monday night, after Islamabad responded angrily to the US president’s allegations that it provided safe havens for militants in the latest spat to rock their alliance.

A US embassy spokesman confirmed Hale had met officials, but said: “We don’t have any comment on the substance of the meeting.” There was no immediate response from foreign office officials.

The White House spokesperson earlier said the country’s efforts against terrorism "will ultimately determine the trajectory of our relationship, including future security assistance".

Following Trump’s tweet, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi called a cabinet meeting on Tuesday and a meeting of the high-level National Security Committee, which includes top civil and military leadership, on Wednesday, state-run Radio Pakistan reported.

The Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan has also prohibited a group led by Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, from collecting donations, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on Monday, citing a notification from the regulator.

Saeed was recently released from house arrest in Lahore, prompting a condemnation from the US State Department, which has labelled him a "specially designated global terrorist".

Military aid

Pakistan has long posed contradictions for the US: it is a partner in the fight against terrorism yet is also the place where Osama bin Laden hid out for years before being killed in a nighttime raid by US Navy Seals.

Since 2015, the US has denied Pakistan $650m in Coalition Support Fund reimbursements that could be released only if the US military certified the country is making acceptable progress against the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with the Taliban.

The Pentagon also continues to review whether $400m that Congress approved for fiscal year 2017, pending a certification, can be released.

The fiscal 2018 defence policy bill earmarks an additional $350m, which cannot be released until there is a Pentagon certification as well.

Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, praised the move in a tweet: "I’ve been fighting to end aid to Pakistan for years and will again lead the charge in the Senate. Let’s make this happen."

Trump spent the first morning of 2018 wading into Middle Eastern affairs, with another tweet calling for "a change in Iran" as that country undergoes a rare show of public disapproval in which as many as a dozen people have died in a series of riots, according to state TV and local reports.