By Mahasweta Muthusubbarayan
Earlier this month, senior officials from the Trump administration held a meeting to debate the withholding of the USD 255 million in aid to Pakistan. This was after the US President expressed dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s efforts to counter terrorist groups operating out of its soil. Trump declared that Pakistan “gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror”. While a final call on the issue is yet to be taken, the meeting has already created ripples in diplomatic and political circles, with many wondering whether Trump will carry out his threat of cutting aid to Pakistan.
Why is this aid package important?
Since 2002, the US has been regularly providing financial aid to Pakistan for military purposes, although the quantum of aid has been greatly reduced in recent years. The USD 255 million currently in question is part of the US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) package promised to Pakistan for the financial year 2016.
The FMF package is intended to help Pakistan by providing grants for the purchase of US-made weapons, artillery and other defence equipment, along with giving military training for its troops from the US. Part of the US military aid also goes to the Coalition Support Fund, which reimburses Pakistan for patrolling and monitoring the Afghan border to check the cross-border movement of the Taliban. In August 2017, the US State Department notified the Congress that it was attaching conditions to the $255 million aid. It said that the amount would be deposited into an escrow account, which could be accessed by Pakistan only if it intensified its crackdown on internal terror networks attacking Afghanistan.
Reasons for US discontent
The Trump administration has been very vocal in insisting that Pakistan should be more aggressive in tackling the Taliban and the Haqqani. The US, apparently, felt that while Pakistan eliminates threats to its own soil, it does not take sufficient action against the Afghan Taliban which attacks the US troops in Afghanistan.
The immediate trigger was apparently Pakistan’s refusal to provide the US with access to one of the Haqqani abductors of an American-Canadian couple and their children who were freed earlier this year. The US is hopeful that the Haqqani militant can provide information about its citizen Kevin King, a University professor who was abducted last year. Another one of its citizens, Paul Overby, also went missing in Afghanistan two years back while trying to interview a Haqqani leader. The Pakistani military, for its part, never mentioned a captured Haqqani militant and has denied that it is not doing enough to crack-down on terrorists.
Will this really affect Pakistan?
According to a New York Times report, Pakistan is not viewed favourably by the current US National Security Council. Lisa Curtis, the Council’s senior director for South and Central Asia, had called for stripping of Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally if it does not show commitment to America’s counter-terrorism goals, along with Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington.
However, Haqqani also made it clear that Pakistan was already braced for measures like cut in aids. The US would have to follow up with measures like targeted sanctions or removing it from the list of allies in order if it really wants to impose on Pakistan effectively. He was reasonably confident that Pakistan could withstand a cut in aid. In fact, the US aid to Pakistan has already dwindled to such an extent in the last few years that complete absence of it would not put any undue pressure on Pakistan.
Pakistan’s reaction to the news
Earlier this year, Pakistan’s National Assembly had passed a resolution that the statements of the US President and his senior administrators are hostile and threatening. Pakistan military spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor rejected the allegation that Pakistan is not doing enough to fight armed groups and stated that Pakistan would continue to fight armed groups in the region in Pakistan’s self-interest, rather than at the behest of other countries, indicating that Pakistan does not have any prima facie intention of dancing to US tunes. Pakistan also warned the US against taking unilateral action against armed groups on its soil.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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