Washington/New Delhi: In a blow to US-Pakistan relations, the US has said it had made a final decision to cancel $300 million in aid to Pakistan over Islamabad’s perceived failure to take decisive action against terrorists and militants. This is in addition to another $500 million in aid that was withdrawn earlier this year at the behest of the US Congress.
“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 Pakistan aid was cut by the US Congress earlier this year.
There was no immediate reaction to the development from India, which accuses Pakistan of harbouring, training and infiltrating terrorists to foment terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country.
The withholding of the so-called Coalition Support Funds (CSF) is part of a broader suspension in aid to Pakistan announced by President Donald Trump in January, when he accused Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies & deceit". The Trump administration has been saying that Islamabad is granting safe haven to terrorists and insurgents waging a 17-year-old war in neighbouring Afghanistan, a charge Pakistan denies.
Though the funds have been withheld this year, Pakistan could again be eligible next year for CSF, with US officials saying that Islamabad could win back that support if it changed its behaviour.
Sunday’s move comes ahead of an expected visit by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and the top US military officer, General Joseph Dunford, to Islamabad on 5 September. Combating militants is to be a “primary part of the discussions" in Pakistan, defence secretary James Mattis told reporters last week. Pakistan is also likely to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package soon.
Newly sworn in Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that bringing the country’s economy back on track will be a priority given its fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves.
An US official told Reuters that defence secretary Jim Mattis had an opportunity to authorize $300 million in CSF if he saw concrete Pakistani actions to go after insurgents but Mattis chose not to.
Pakistan is seen as supporting the Taliban to ensure an Islamabad-friendly government in Kabul in case of a conflict with India. The Pentagon’s decision showed that the US—which has sought to change Pakistan’s approach—is increasing pressure on Pakistan. It also underscores that Islamabad has yet to deliver the kind of change sought by Washington. Reuters reported in August that the Trump administration has quietly started cutting scores of Pakistani officers from coveted training and educational programmes that have been a hallmark of bilateral military relations for more than a decade.
A Pakistani official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was unaware of a formal notification of the US decision on assistance but said one was expected by the end of September.
Pakistan has received more than $33 billion in US assistance since 2002, including more than $14 billion in Coalition Support Funds. The CSF is a US defence department programme to reimburse allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-insurgency operations.