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US re-routes $300 million in military support to Pakistan over 'inaction' on terror groups

Pakistani religious students protest against US President Donald Trump [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 September, 2018

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The US has accused Pakistan of ignoring or even collaborating with groups which attack Afghanistan from safe havens along the border.
The US military has re-routed $300 million in military aid to Pakistan due to Islamabad's lack of "decisive actions" in support of American strategy in the region, the Pentagon said on Saturday.

The US has been pushing Pakistan to crack down on militant safe havens in the country, and announced a freeze on aid at the beginning of the year that an official said could be worth almost $2 billion.

The US Congress has sought to cut military support to Islamabad "due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy", Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said in an email to AFP.

"We continue to press Pakistan to indiscriminately target all terrorist groups," Faulkner said, adding that the latest aid cut request was pending Congressional approval, with a decision expected by the end of September.

Speaking to The New Arab, Lt Col Faulkner confirmed this was not a new decision, but an acknowledgement of a July request to shift budgets following the previous suspension of half a billion dollars in security assistance to Pakistan.

"The 2018 DoD [Department of Defense] Appropriations Act, published March 23, 2018, details $500 million rescinded by Congress," he told The New Arab by email. 

"Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy, the remaining $300 million was reprogrammed by DoD in the July 2018 time frame for other urgent priorities before the funds expire on September 30, 2018."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is soon to visit Islamabad to meet new Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

Pakistan has fought fierce campaigns against homegrown militant groups, and says it has lost thousands of lives and spent billions of dollars in its long war on extremism.

But US officials accuse Islamabad of ignoring or even collaborating with groups which attack Afghanistan from "safe havens" along the border between the two countries.

The White House believes that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and other military bodies have long helped fund and arm the Taliban for ideological reasons, but also to counter rising Indian influence in Afghanistan.

It also believes that a Pakistani crackdown could be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the long-running war in Afghanistan.

US frustration has boiled over before: President Donald Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, authorised drone strikes on Pakistani safe havens and sent US commandos to kill jihadist kingpin Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout.

But Trump's aggressive language has especially angered Pakistani officials.

"The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools," Trump wrote on Twitter at the beginning of the year.

"They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!"

Pakistani leaders disputed the $33 billion figure, insisting that around half of the money relates to reimbursements, and the prime minister's office accused Trump of ignoring the great sacrifices the country has made to fight extremism.

Loss of US influence

The announcement came weeks after Pakistan's new Prime Minister Imran Khan took office amid concerns he would remain tolerant of terror groups including the Taliban and the notorious Haqqani network.

Khan has repeatedly blamed Pakistan's participation in the US-led anti-terror campaign for the surge in terrorism on home soil over the last decade and has vowed to rebalance Islamabad's relationship with Washington. 

He has also shown a willingness to hold talks with militant groups and sought support from religious hardliners in the run-up to elections last July - moves that prompted critics to dub him "Taliban Khan".

"We continue to call on Pakistan to arrest, expel or bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table," said Lt Col Faulkner.

Some analysts warn there may be no real way to pressure Islamabad and say a suspension in military aid could see the US lose crucial influence over Pakistan which could instead look to other countries for support, particularly its longtime ally China. 

Despite the provocations, the US does not want to completely rupture its relationship with Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment already runs high. 

"Since January, we have consistently engaged with Pakistani military officials at the highest levels, based on both a shared commitment to defeat all terrorist groups that threaten regional stability and security, as well as on a shared vision of a peaceful future for Afghanistan," said Lt Col Faulkner.

Washington's footprint in Afghanistan is much smaller than it was at the height of the war, but it needs access to Pakistan's supply lines and airspace. 

Pakistan is still believed to have the strongest influence over the Taliban, making its cooperation necessary for peace talks. 

**Article updated 03/09/2018 1500GMT to include Lt Col Kone Faulkner's comments to The New Arab, detailing the redistribution of budgets previously cancelled by Congress, not the DoD, and clarifying the article headline to reflect that the decision affects military aid.


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