WASHINGTON: The US military said it has made a final decision to cancel $300 million in aid to Pakistan that had been suspended over Islamabad’s perceived failure to take decisive action against militants, in a new blow to deteriorating ties.
The so-called Coalition Support Funds were part of a broader suspension in aid to Pakistan announced by President Donald Trump at the start of the year, when he accused Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies & deceit.”
The Trump administration says Islamabad is granting safe haven to insurgents who are waging a 17-year-old war in neighboring Afghanistan, a charge Pakistan denies.
But US officials had held out the possibility that Pakistan could win back that support if it changed its behavior.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in particular, had an opportunity to authorize $300 million in CSF funds through this summer – if he saw concrete Pakistani actions to go after insurgents. Mattis chose not to, a US official told Reuters.
“Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said.
Faulkner said the Pentagon aimed to spend the $300 million on “other urgent priorities” if approved by Congress. He said another $500 million in CSF was stripped by Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, to bring the total withheld to $800 million.
The disclosure came ahead of an expected visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top US military officer, General Joseph Dunford, to Islamabad. Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that combating militants would be a “primary part of the discussion.”
Experts on the Afghan conflict, America’s longest war, argue that militant safe havens in Pakistan have allowed Taliban-linked insurgents in Afghanistan a place to plot deadly strikes and regroup after ground offensives.
The Pentagon’s decision showed that the United States, which has sought to change Pakistani behavior, is still increasing pressure on Pakistan’s security apparatus.
It also underscored that Islamabad has yet to deliver the kind of change sought by Washington.
“It is a calibrated, incremental ratcheting up of pressure on Pakistan,” said Sameer Lalwani, co-director of the South Asia program at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.
After the US military moved to scrap a $300 million aid to Pakistan for what it claimed was Islamabad’s lack of “decisive actions” in support of regional American strategy, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi contended the labeling of the payment as “aid” and vowed to discuss the matter with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.
Responding to the development, Qureshi, the newly appointed foreign minister of Pakistan, clarified that the payment, which the US is now considering scrapping, is in fact the support coalition fund.
“This is not an aid of any kind that can be suspended,” he said. “This is actually the payment of expenses incurred by us during the war against terrorism.”
The foreign minister said that to “rid the region and the world from terrorism is a joint effort, for which Pakistan has done a lot. The Pakistan Army and people have sacrificed a lot, which is why the positive thinking should be that all the measures that are for our joint goals should continue as is.”
Qureshi said that the matter will be discussed with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo when he visits Pakistan on Wednesday.
“We will sit with him, present our point of view and exchange ideas,” he said. “We have several combined interest … we will take our mutual respect for each other into consideration and move forward.”