President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., Jan. 4. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Putting Pakistan on notice, the U.S. suspended over $1.15 billion in security aid, Jan. 5, and the delivery of military equipment to it for failing to clamp down on the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network terror groups and dismantle their safe havens, write Lalit K. Jha and Sajjad Hussain.
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 U.S. but “lies and deceit” and providing “safe haven” to terrorists in return for $33 billion aid over the last 15 years.
The suspended amount also includes $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 $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 destabilizing the region and also targeting U.S. personnel. The U.S. will suspend that kind of security assistance to Pakistan,” she said.
The U.S., 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 U.S. Administration on the issue of security cooperation and await further details.”
The impact of the U.S.’ 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 U.S. in fighting terrorism directly served U.S. national security interests as well as the larger interests of international community.
Through major counter-terrorism operations, Pakistan has cleared all these areas resulting in elimination of organized terrorist presence, the statement said.
Historically, the U.S. has provided Pakistan over $1 billion in security assistance annually.
In August, while unveiling his new South Asia strategy, Trump had accused Pakistan of giving “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror,” and said the time had come “for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.”
Referring to Trump’s new strategy, Nauert said 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 destabilize Afghanistan and also attack the U.S. and allied personnel.
At the same time, Nauert made it clear that the U.S. action has nothing to do with Pakistan not taking action against the Mumbai terror attack mastermind and 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 $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 Defense Spokesperson Lt. Col. Mike Andrews told PTI that National Defense Authorization Act 2017 provides up to $900 million for Pakistan in the CSF.
Of these funds, $400 million can only be released if the Secretary of Defense 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 $900 million,” Andrews said.
During an interaction with Pentagon reporters, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis did not respond to question if he was in favor of cutting off the aid to Pakistan.
According to a senior State Department official, no decision has been taken on the fate of $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 traveled 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.
The U.S. and others have long complained that Pakistan offered safe haven to the Afghan Taliban and their allies, the Haqqani Network, allowing them to carry out cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies allegations but President Trump has escalated the criticism against the country since he took office last January.
On Jan. 4, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had placed Pakistan on a special watch list for severe violations of religious freedom.