Frustrated by Islamabad’s continued refusal to sever ties with jihadist networks, US President Donald Trump’s administration has begun to evolve a full range of measures to ratchet up pressure on Pakistan that range from economic pressure using international financial institutions to stepped-up lethal action against key terrorist leaders, Washington-based diplomatic sources have told The Indian Express.
In a tweet at 4 am January 1, President Trump said the United States had “foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit” — the latest in a series of angry comments by top leaders, including Vice-President Mike Pence. Even though the statements have not been followed by action, sources said these were intended to signal to Pakistan that anger in the US government had reached tipping point.
The decision to push Pakistan hard, led by National Security Advisor H R McMaster and the National Security Council’s senior South Asia director Lisa Curtis, marks a break from caution in earlier administrations which believed too much pressure posed unacceptable risks of destabilising a nuclear-weapons power.
Following President Trump’s tweet, the White House said Tuesday that the United States had no plans to release $255 million in military aid promised for the 2016 financial year. However, the funds had already been placed in escrow in August after the United States said it was dissatisfied by the action Islamabad had taken on terrorism.
The cash itself is unlikely to impose pain on Pakistan, amounting to a little over 10 per cent of $1.87 billion the country’s budget commits to new acquisitions and modernisation of its armed forces. “It’s not the money that’s important,” one diplomat said, “it’s the message. The question is: is Pakistan going to listen, or put the United States to test?”
Later this month, an inspection team from the Financial Action Task Force, a conglomeration of the world’s leading economies, which frames rules for the international banking system, is set to visit Pakistan to study its action to stop funding of jihadist groups, the first step in the United States’ pressure-building strategy.
The team’s assessment will inform FATF discussions in February when the State Bank of Pakistan, the country’s central bank, will present measures it has taken to contain asset-building by terrorist organisations proscribed by the United Nations, including the Jama’at-ud-Dawa, Jaish-e-Muhammad and the Afghan Taliban.
Failure to persuade the FATF that adequate action has been taken could lead to Pakistan being placed under watch by the organisation, a measure that would lead the international banking system to place transactions involving the country under intense scrutiny.
In an effort to preempt such action, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan issued orders Monday, warning companies against “donating cash to the entities and individuals listed under the United Nations Security Council sanctions committee’s consolidated list”.
Earlier, on December 19, Pakistan’s Finance Ministry had asked provincial governments to submit plans for taking over assets belonging to the Jama’at-ud-Dawa, including educational and medical institutions run by its charitable wing, the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation.
Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who attended one meeting relating to implementation of the December 19 instructions, said he had ordered authorities to “choke the fundraising of all proscribed outfits in Pakistan”.
However, websites seeking funding for the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation’s activities in and outside Pakistan remained online Tuesday. “We don’t have any intimation about any crackdown so far,” FIF spokesperson Salman Shahid told media. “No one has asked us about our work or assets,” he said.
Further pressure is likely to mount on Pakistan through the International Monetary Fund. Faced with depleted foreign exchange reserves, the country was pressured by the US-dominated IMF last month to allow its currency to depreciate against the US dollar.
“I believe the Trump administration is pretty clear about what it wants to do,” said Husain Haqqani, Islamabad’s former ambassador to the United States said. “These measures will reveal themselves incrementally in coming months.”
President Trump has already removed restraints on covert CIA drone strikes inside Pakistan’s Federally-Administered Tribal Areas and, sources said, he has expressed willingness to consider targeting key leaders from Afghanistan-focused jihadist groups elsewhere too.