Pakistan tensions rise as Trump administration halts security assistance

10 January, 2018, 01:26 | Author: Phil Peters
  • Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif  File

The Trump administration announced its decision to suspend the aid Thursday, saying it would remain frozen until Islamabad takes "decisive action" against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. "This is not how allies behave".

"Security assistance funding and pending deliveries will be frozen but not cancelled as we continue to hope Pakistan will take the decisive action against terrorists the militant groups that we seek", the official said, adding that the U.S. does not intend to reprogram any funds at this time.

U.S. President Donald Trump and the White House have engaged in hawkish statements against Pakistan since the beginning of 2018, accusing Islamabad of not doing enough to support the U.S. anti-terrorism initiative in Afghanistan but providing "safe havens" to terrorists that the United States are hunting down. Islamabad denied his claim and has long decried similar allegations. They said they could make exceptions for money that went to critical USA national security priorities.

She told reporters that until Pakistan takes "decisive action" against those groups, security assistance was suspended.

But its security services continue to support the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction that has killed American forces in Afghanistan and is behind numerous large-scale attacks on Afghan cities.

Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the restrictions covered security assistance above and beyond the $255 million for Pakistani purchases of American military equipment that the administration held up in August.

The Army spokesman reiterated that there are no more "organised" terrorist sanctuaries inside Pakistan.

"Obviously, we'll continue talking with one another, as we are at all times", said the USA defence chief, but he did not clarify if the conversation took place before or after Washington announced the aid suspension on Thursday.

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U.S. officials said two main categories of aid are affected: foreign military financing (FMF), which funds purchases of United States military hardware, training and services, and coalition support funds (CSF), which reimburse Pakistan for counter-terrorism operations. The Taliban might outlive this offensive too, and deal with it "lying low in their mountain fastness, as they did with previous offensives", as one interlocutor said.

In September a year ago, the United States suspended $255 million in funding to help Pakistan buy high-tech weaponry from American manufacturers. None of that money has yet been disbursed.

Briefing reporters, USA officials stressed the suspension did not affect civilian aid to Pakistan and that the money could go through if Islamabad took decisive action against the groups. "Extremist organisations serving as proxies of the Government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as USA soldiers", he said.

Still, the Trump administration's hard line with Pakistan is not without risk.

Moreover, the majority of attacks and fatalities in Afghanistan take place in areas along the global boundary that separates the nation from Pakistan.

"(But) this was present in Trump's tweet and before that US Vice President Mike Pence made the "put Pakistan on notice" statement from Afghanistan", the Defence Minister said, referring to the threatening tone of the US leaders. "Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goal posts are counterproductive in addressing common threats". "We are allies and a war can not be fought with allies", he said.

The freezing of all security assistance to Pakistan comes days after President Donald Trump in a new year tweet accused Pakistan of giving nothing to the USA but "lies and deceit" and providing "safe haven" to terrorists in return for $33 billion aid over the last 15 years. "Pakistan remains an important country in the region and in the world, and has historically been a vital partner for the US..." In an interaction with reporters, two senior state department officials asserted that such a move is not a punishment, but to provide an incentive to Pakistan to take more action against terrorist groups. "Their, in essence, support of the Haqqani network, or ... allowing them to have safe harbour in their country when they're the greatest threat to our men and women in uniform". Pressure from the USA also resulted in a buildup of Pakistani military presence along the border with Afghanistan.

"No, I'm not concerned", Mattis told reporters on Friday at the Pentagon when asked about the prospect of Pakistan shutting down what the military calls Ground Lines of Communication, or GLOCs.

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