The US on Friday suspended over USD 1.15 billion in security aid and the delivery of military equipment to it for allegedly failing to clampdown on the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network terror groups and dismantle their safe havens.
The freezing of all security assistance to Pakistan comes after President Donald Trump in a New Year’s Day tweet accused the country of giving nothing to the US but “lies and deceit” and providing “safe haven to terrorists” in return for USD 33 billion aid over the last 15 years.
The suspended amount also includes USD 255 million in Foreign Military Funding (FMF) for the fiscal year 2016 as mandated by the Congress.
In addition, the Department of Defense has suspended the entire USD 900 million of the Coalition Support Funds (CSF) money to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2017 and other unspent money from previous fiscal years.
“Today we can confirm that we are suspending national security assistance only, to Pakistan at this time until the Pakistani government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters.
“We consider them (terror groups) to be destabilising the region and also targeting US personnel. The US will suspend that kind of security assistance to Pakistan,” she said.
The US, she said, will not be delivering military equipment or transfer security-related funds to Pakistan unless it is required by law.
Reacting to the Trump administration’s move, Pakistan said, “We are engaged with the US administration on the issue of security cooperation and await further details.”
“Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats,” the foreign office said in a statement in Islamabad, adding: “Working towards enduring peace requires mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence. We are determined to continue to do all it takes to secure the lives of our citizens and broader stability in the region.”
It said that Pakistan believed that its cooperation with US in fighting terrorism directly served US national security interests as well as the larger interests of the international community.
Historically, the US has provided Pakistan over USD 1 billion in security assistance annually.
Referring to Trump’s new strategy, Nauert said that despite a sustained high-level engagement by Trump administration with the government of Pakistan, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilise Afghanistan and also attack the US and allied personnel.
At the same time, Nauert made it clear that the US action has nothing to do with Pakistan not taking action against JuD chief Hafiz Saeed.
“We have certainly expressed our concern about the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks being let out of house arrest in Pakistan. To my knowledge, that has nothing to do with that,” she said in response to a question on Saeed, who was released by Pakistan on November last year.
“There is a USD 10 million reward out for information leading to his re-arrest, the person who is the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks who was let go in Pakistan,” Nauert said.
Meanwhile, Department of Defence Spokesperson Lt Col Mike Andrews told PTI that National Defense Authorisation Act 2017 provides up to USD 900 million for Pakistan in the CSF.
Of these funds, USD 400 million can only be released if the Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis certifies that the Pakistan government has taken specific actions against the Haqqani Network.
“At this stage all Fiscal Year 17 CSF have been suspended, so that’s the entire amount of USD 900 million,” Andrews said.
During an interaction with Pentagon reporters, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis did not respond to question if he was in favour of cutting off the aid to Pakistan.
According to a senior State Department official, no decision has been taken on the fate of USD 255 million security assistance to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2017.
The deadline for that is September 30 this year.
Mattis along with the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have travelled to Pakistan in recent months to deliver tough message to the country’s leadership. So, this action should not come as a surprise to them, Nauert said.
“They may say it’s a surprise, but what is no surprise is that the President has expressed his concerns, Secretary Tillerson has expressed his concerns, as has Secretary Mattis, and I imagine many other government officials having those conversations with Pakistan,” Nauert said.
Now, the money that has been suspended at this time does not mean that it will be suspended forever, she said.
“Pakistan has the ability to get this money back, in the future, but they have to take decisive action. They have to take decisive steps,” she added.
“People have long asked, why don’t you do more about Pakistan, and I think this sort of answers that question,” she said.
“They understand that, but still they aren’t taking the steps that they need to take in order to fight terrorism,” she said.
In an interaction with reporters, two senior state department officials insisted that such a move is not a punishment, but to provide an “incentive” to Pakistan to take more action against terrorist groups.
“We have not done anything that’s irreversible here. All this funding is available to Pakistan, if they undertake to take the measures that we’ve asked of them,” one official said.
“So we were hoping that this is an incentive that they don’t want to see this relationship deteriorate any further..,” he added.
Yesterday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had placed Pakistan on a special watch list for severe violations of religious freedom.
In an interview on Thursday with the Geo News channel, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that the US was now neither a friend nor ally, but “a friend who always betrays”. He also accused Trump of “speaking the language of India”.
Pakistan’s opposition, meanwhile, called for concrete actions to retaliate.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan said Pakistan should “delink” itself from the US after its humiliation “by an ungrateful Donald Trump”.
Addressing a fiery press conference outside his residence in Islamabad, Khan called the Pakistan government to expel some US diplomatic personnel and cut off supply routes for the US-led coalition forces from the port city of Karachi to landlocked Afghanistan, as well as close its airspace to US forces.
The political elite of Pakistan were responsible for the threats and strained relations between the two countries, Khan said, referring to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government.
The US has given Pakistan more than $20 billion in reimbursements and military assistance since 2002, but that aid has diminished over the years, to the point that Pakistani officials have insisted its suspension will have minimal impact, the New York Times reported.
“The suspension is arguably more significant as a signal of Washington’s discontent than as an act of financial deprivation,” said Joshua T. White, an Asia analyst who was director of South Asian affairs at the National Security Council during the Obama years.
“The Trump administration has likely sketched out an escalation strategy, and would be wise to pause after Thursday’s announcement to give Pakistan the opportunity to quietly address US concerns.” PTI/IANS