WASHINGTON – The United States has announced that the suspension of security assistance to Pakistan for failing to take “decisive action” against Taliban militants targeting AMERICAN personnel in neighboring Afghanistan.
The State Department’s statement Thursday signaled growing frustration about the level of cooperation in the fight against terrorist networks. In the first instance, vague information about how much money and equipment was retained suggested the primary goal was to prove President Donald Trump is a surprising New Year’s Day tweet that accused Pakistan of playing AMERICAN leaders for “fools.”
Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the restrictions covered security assistance above the $255 million for Pakistani purchases of U.s. military equipment of the administration held in August.
Nauert made clear that $255 million is still blocked, and the Pentagon said that the new action objectives payments of the so-called Coalition Support Funds that the US pays to Pakistan to compensate for the counter-terrorism operations.
The defense-spending legislation for 2017, provides for up to $ 900 million in Coalition Support Funds, of which $400 million can only be released to Pakistan as Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis declares that Pakistan has taken specific actions against the Haqqani network. None of the $ 900 million if it is paid, the Pentagon said. The last Coalition Support Funds paid to Pakistan in March last year, as determined by the defense-spending legislation for 2016.
On Monday, Trump said the US had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid in the last 15 years had received nothing in return, but “lies & deceit.” He repeated that the years of allegations that Pakistan gives safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”
Trump unveiled in August, a South Asia strategy aimed at ending the deadlock in the united states, the war in Afghanistan, now entering its 17th year. Nauert said that despite sustained high-level engagement with the pakistani government, “the Taliban and the Haqqani network continue to find sanctuary in Pakistan as they plot to destabilize Afghanistan and the attack of the AMERICAN and allied personnel.” She told reporters that until Pakistan takes “decisive measures” against those groups, security assistance has been suspended.
Civil development and economic assistance to Pakistan is not affected.
Also Thursday, the foreign Ministry accused Pakistan of severe violations of freedom of religion. It announced that the placing of Pakistan on a special watch list on the basis of 2016 legislation. The step brings no serious consequences.
The pakistani embassy in Washington not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
But on Tuesday, Pakistan called Trump’s tweet “absolutely incomprehensible” and in conflict with recent “confidence-building” visits by Secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Mattis. He accused the US of scapegoating Pakistan for its own failure to bring peace in Afghanistan.
A senior Pakistani senator expressed disappointment at the U.S. decision to suspend military aid to Islamabad, saying it will be harmful for the Pakistani-AMERICAN relations.
Nuzhat Sadiq, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee in the upper house of the parliament, says Islamabad can manage without the United States as in the 1990’s, but would prefer the difficult relationship forward. Sadiq said Friday that “what the US is doing now is not good for its policy against terrorism and for a lasting peace in this region.”
She said that Pakistan has always played an important role in the war on terror.”
The random nature of Thursday’s announcement suggested it was hastily arranged, rather than developed through a traditional process. Even after the members of Congress had been notified of an impending aid of the suspension, the White House and the State Department officials were still hammering out details for who to notify and when. Earlier Thursday, Mattis said that the policy on military aid to Pakistan was “still to be formulated.”
As recently as October, Trump credited the AMERICAN-Pakistani cooperation in winning the release of an American woman, her Canadian husband and their children who had been held by the Haqqani militants for five years.
The US aid to Pakistan, which is greatly increased after the 9/11 attacks, has decreased since 2011, when American commandos killed bin laden in Pakistan, the straining of the relations. Pakistan has increasingly turned for economic aid to northern neighbour China, which is investing tens of billions in public transport and energy generation as it extends its strategic footprint in Asia.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Wilson Center South Asia program, said the suspension of U.S. security assistance to Pakistan would not torpedo relations, but it was a major step backwards. He said that Pakistan could rely on Saudi Arabia and China for military supplies, but it is still dependent on the US for certain types of high-end equipment.
“There are significant risks for the US, because Pakistan would retaliate in ways that would be very problematic for the AMERICAN regional interests,” he said, such as the curtailing of the intelligence of the cooperation and the US supply lines into Afghanistan.
“It doesn’t matter what the relationship is in a bad place now.”
Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Zeke Miller in Washington and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.