More aid cuts for Pakistan likely as US readies to-do list on fight against terror

The United States is likely to announce “suspension” of some financial assistance to Pakistan soon, as speculations swirl about impending punitive action by the Trump administration that has suddenly dialled up the rhetoric on a client state ungrateful of billions of dollars it has received in aid.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to confirm or deny when asked about it at a daily briefing.

On Tuesday, she had said the administration would in the “next 24 to 48 hours” present Pakistan with a list of “specific actions” it needed to take on combating terrorism to keep the aid flowing.

Reuters reported Wednesday the administration was considering cuts in “security assistance”, citing congressional staff contacted by administration officials.

Sources told Hindustan Times that the cuts are likely to be in the nature of “suspension” and the amount could be foreign military financing (FMF), a security-related assistance, same as the $255 million the White House said past week it will not be processing for Pakistan.

The nature of the suspension/cut was not immediately clear. President Donald Trump has indicated in tweets and remarks that it could be all of it unless Pakistan took some decisive actions. US envoy to UN Nikki Haley has said the president means to dock all of it if necessary.

The White House said last week the United States will not be paying Pakistan $255 million in foreign military assistance from a package set aside for the one-time ally for 2016 — it had been held back earlier in 2017 and then cleared — before it was finally withheld.

Pakistan has received over $33 billion in overt aid — a mix of economic and security-related assistance from the United States since 2002, when America invaded Afghanistan to get rid of the Taliban regime sheltering al Qaeda, the outfit responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Of this, $8.2 billion was security-related, according to a paper tracking US assistance to Pakistan by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a non-partisan body that works for US congress.

The $255-million aid denied to Pakistan came from the security-related part of the package, which are broadly aimed at boosting the country’s counter-terrorism capabilities. Other expenses in this category come from funds earmarked for counter-narcotics operations, military education and training, non-proliferation, de-mining and counter-insurgency.

Pakistan sought to purchase refurbished F-16 fighter jets under this category for counter-insurgency,

A larger security-related payment was $14.5 billion paid to Pakistan from Coalition Support Funds (CSF), which the CRS paper argued, was not assistance but reimbursement for logistical and operational support of US-led military operations; “it is technically not foreign assistance”.

But a sizable portion of the payments under CSF are tied to Pakistan’s actions against terrorism — specifically the Haqqani Network, an Afghan Taliban affiliate — that must be certified by the administration for congress to clear the bill. The administration was earlier allowed to waive the certification and look the other way at Pakistan’s dogged refusal to act decisively and process the payment. But congress has taken that power away since, making those payments ineligible for payment, and the proportion if it in the total CSF package has been rising every year.

Pakistan was not paid $300 million of $1 billion under CSF in 2015 and $350 million of $900 million in 2016 because the administration could not certify Pakistan and indeed taken decisive action against the outfit, which is at the heart of US anger with Pakistan, described as “deceit” by the president recently.

The Haqqani Network operates in Afghanistan from safe havens across the border in Pakistan, targeting US-led international coalition forces. US officials have called it a “veritable arm” of the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI.

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