The US kept India “in the loop” on its decision Friday to suspend over $1.15 billion in security aid and military equipment to Pakistan for not acting against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani terror network, sources told The Indian Express.
Sources in New Delhi said that US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster met Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar hours after the decision was announced in Washington DC.
Sources said US officials told Indian diplomats that Washington’s decision was also based on Pakistan’s failure to crack down on Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief and 26/11 Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed. India believes that this is a “shift” from the earlier US position when it was only concerned about Taliban and the Haqqani network.
However, at her briefing in Washington DC, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the decision did not take into account Saeed’s actions.
Opinion | The tightrope walker
The US move to suspend aid to Pakistan came four days after President Donald Trump accused the country of “lies and deceit”, and providing a “safe haven” to terrorists.
The amount being withheld includes $255 million in Foreign Military Funding (FMF) for the fiscal year 2016 as mandated by the US Congress. The US Department of Defense has also suspended $900 million in Coalition Support Funds (CSF) to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2017 and other unspent money in aid 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,” US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington DC.
“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 transferring security related funds to Pakistan unless it is required by law.
Sources in Washington DC told The Indian Express that the freeze was “temporary” and could be lifted if Pakistan “changed its ways”.
Indian government sources described the US move as a “positive development” and said that other global powers, too, should reconsider aid and assistance to Pakistan. However, they pointed out, China has emerged as a larger provider of aid to Pakistan in recent years than the US.
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.” The impact of the US decision on pursuit of common objectives is also likely to emerge more clearly in due course of time, Pakistan’s Foreign Office said in a statement in Islamabad.
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. Through major counter-terrorism operations, Pakistan has cleared all these areas resulting in elimination of organised terrorist presence, the statement said.
“Working towards enduring peace requires mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence. Emergence of new and more deadly groups such as Daesh in Afghanistan call for enhancing international cooperation. Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry statement said.
The US move reportedly capped considerable debate within the administration after the Pentagon warned the State Department that Rawalpindi could retaliate by denying access to routes in Pakistan that the US uses to supply about 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan.
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), US aid to Pakistan in the 2016 financial year was $1.1 billion, and $1.6 billion the year before. US civilian and military assistance for Pakistan has dropped from an average of over $2.2 billion a year during the period immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks to an estimated $526 million in 2017.
On January 1, posting his first tweet of 2018, Trump wrote: “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. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Nauert said that Defence secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had travelled to Pakistan in recent months to deliver a tough message to the country’s leadership.
“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. The money that has been suspended at this time does not mean that it will be withheld 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,” said Nauert.
“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.
The United States has in the past frozen military aid without forcing a change in Pakistan’s policies. In July 2011, two months after US Seal Team Six killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the Obama administration suspended about $800 million in aid. But, it did not lead to any tangible change in behaviour, besides piecemeal changes.
(With inputs from PT/Washington)