US cuts security aid to Pakistan over terrorist groups

Pakistan isn’t ‘taking steps that they need to take to fight terrorism’, says state department

Pakistani students burn images of US president Donald Trump during a protest against aid cuts in Islamabad on Friday. Photograph: Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistani students burn images of US president Donald Trump during a protest against aid cuts in Islamabad on Friday. Photograph: Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images

 

The US is suspending security assistance to Pakistan as the Trump administration escalates pressure on the government in Islamabad to prevent terrorist groups from finding safe harbour in the country.

The action announced on Thursday is in addition to a decision disclosed earlier this week in which the national security council said the US will continue to withhold $255 million (€212 million) in military aid as the White House reviews Pakistan’s “level of co-operation” in fighting terrorism.

“This is something that should not come as a surprise to Pakistan,” state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters. “They aren’t taking the steps that they need to take to fight terrorism.”

President Donald Trump foreshadowed the move in a New Year’s Day tweet in which he said the US has “foolishly” given more than $33 billion and received only “lies and deceit” in return. It reflected his increasing warnings that the US would cut off aid to those that oppose his policies, potentially including the Palestinian Authority and countries that vote against the US at the United Nations.

However, analysts doubted the move would alter Islamabad’s core strategic interests in the region, which includes keeping Indian influence in neighbouring Afghanistan to a minimum. That’s especially the case given China’s more than $50 billion in infrastructure loans that continue to flow to Pakistan’s government.

Fundamental interests

Although withholding security aid may anger the Pakistani military establishment and prompt short-term measures to appease US officials, Chinese money is likely to fill the gap and the Trump administration’s move is unlikely to alter Pakistan’s fundamental interests in the region, said Harsh Pant, an international relations professor at King’s College London.

“In the short to medium term, there will be a lot of bluster but they will try and show that they are serious and perhaps there will be some short-term results in the offing,” Mr Pant said. “But the larger issue of whether this will fundamentally alter Pakistan’s policy toward Afghanistan or India, I very much doubt.”

The impact of the latest move against Pakistan was unclear. Ms Nauert said she couldn’t provide an estimate of how much money is involved, saying it is still being calculated.

In a briefing after the announcement, two state department officials said the money being withheld fell into two categories: foreign military financing and funds the US reimburses to Pakistan for its support of coalition forces. Budgetary figures indicate the total amount the US may withhold is more than $1.2 billion.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Khawaja Asif said the US owes $9 billion for services including the use of Pakistan’s airspace and air bases, Karachi-based Geo television reported on Thursday.

Ms Nauert specifically cited the country’s lack of progress in dealing with the Haqqani Network, which is affiliated with the Taliban, and elements of the Taliban who are permitted to operate out of Pakistan despite US pressure.

In a speech on his south Asia policy in August, Mr Trump made clear that Pakistan must do more to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the time, he said the US “can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond”. – Bloomberg