The Pentagon says it is stopping $300 million in aid to Pakistan for counterterrorism efforts, after it deemed that the country isn’t meeting its demands for decisive action against terrorist groups operating within its borders.
Earlier this year, the State Department said it was withholding security funding to the country that could be reinstated if it were determined that Pakistan was making progress on ridding itself of terrorists that have been fighting a 17-year war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon now says it has decided to cut off Coalition Support Funds that reimburse Pakistan for its efforts at combating terrorism.
“Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy, the remaining $300 [million] was reprogrammed,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Kone Faulkner said Sept. 1.
The funds will be allocated to “other urgent priorities,” he said.
Faulkner said the plan will be submitted to Congress and, if approved, will bring the total of Coalition Support Funds that have been cut to $800 million since early this year.
Pakistan has received more than $33 billion in U.S. assistance in the past 16 years, including more than $14 billion in Coalition Support Funds.
A Pakistani official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was unaware of a formal notification of the U.S. decision on assistance, but said one was expected by the end of September.
Pakistan, a majority Muslim nation, has had a rocky relationship with its southeast neighbor India and has been a focus of the United States since the al-Qaeda terrorist group carried out the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center in 2001. The United States also accuses it of harboring Taliban terrorists that are trying to destabilize the Afghani government, which Pakistan denies.
Last August, Trump announced a new strategy for South Asia focused on eliminating terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The strategy takes aim at Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, which the United States fears could fall into the hands of terrorists.
The Taliban reacted to the new strategy by threatening to make Afghanistan a “graveyard” for U.S. soldiers.
Afghanistan’s leadership was buoyant, applauding the president’s commitment to counterterrorism in the region.
“I am grateful to President Trump and the American people for this affirmation of support for our efforts to achieve self-reliance and for our joint effort to rid the region of the threat of terrorism,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement after Trump’s speech.
The United States has tried to get Pakistan to root out all of the terrorist organizations within its borders that are destabilizing the region, not just those that pose a threat to the Pakistani government.
Several weeks after the July victory of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called to wish him success and urge him to take “decisive action against all terrorists.” Pakistan claimed that terrorism was never discussed, and asked the State Department to make a correction in its readout of the call. The State Department declined.
In response to Pakistan’s request, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters on Aug. 23 that Pakistan is an “important partner to the United States,” and that the United States hopes to “forge a good, productive working relationship with the new civilian government.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford are planning to visit the region in a few days, stopping first in India and then flying to Islamabad, where they are expected to discuss security.
“And to make very clear what we have to do, all of our nations, in meeting our common foe, the terrorists,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said on Aug. 28.
The issue of the cut funding could be a sticking point, at least on the semantics of the term “aid.” Pakistan responded to the news that the United States would be stopping Coalition Support Funds by saying that it was using its own money to counter terrorism in the region.
“It is not a cut in any [U.S.] aid, it is not assistance. This is our own money which we have used for improving regional security situation and they had to reimburse it to us,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters Sept. 2 in Islamabad, according to Voice of America.
Previous administrations have tried similar approaches to get Pakistan to comply with U.S. aims for security in the region. This time may be different, however, as new Khan has said he seeks “mutually beneficial” relations with the United States.
Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have plummeted over the past year and the country will soon have to decide whether to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or from friendly nations such as China. The United States has the largest share of votes at the IMF.
“[The United States is] squeezing them when they know that they’re vulnerable and it is probably a signal about what to expect should Pakistan come to the IMF for a loan,” Sameer Lalwani, co-director of the South Asia program at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.
Reuters contributed to this report.