Monday, 18 February 2019

US cancels $300m military aid to Pakistan

The US government has cancelled $300m in military aid to Pakistan ahead of an expected visit to Islamabad by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo to meet newly elected prime minister Imran Khan.

Pakistani officials said the timing of the weekend announcement by the US military appeared to set the tone for a difficult meeting between the countries in the coming week. “They [the US] are signalling to Pakistan. Be prepared for some tough talk by Mike Pompeo,” one senior government official in Islamabad told the Financial Times on Sunday.

Lieutenant Colonel Koné Faulkner, Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement on Saturday: “We continue to press Pakistan to indiscriminately target all terrorist groups” following up on a long list of similar messages from Washington.

Due to “a lack of Pakistani decisive actions”, Colonel Faulkner said, the US military aimed to spend the money on other “urgent priorities”.

In the past, US president Donald Trump has accused Pakistan of deceiving Washington while receiving billions of dollars in assistance. The US said in January that it would suspend security assistance to Pakistan worth $2bn after Mr Trump said Islamabad refused to crack down on terrorism.

Analysts warned that the latest US action will only complicate Washington’s attempts to seek Pakistan’s help in bringing the Taliban in Afghanistan to the negotiating table with the government of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.

“If the US wants to have dealings with Pakistan, it cannot continue to escalate the pressure on Pakistan,” retired Ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi, a former senior Pakistani diplomat told the FT. He said the Islamabad “will have to take a strong position” in response to it.

The latest discord is rooted in the history of Pakistan’s military co-operation with the US, dating back to the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. US officials have repeatedly pressed Pakistan to widen a large-scale military campaign against Taliban militants in the border areas along Afghanistan, to include members of the Haqqani militant network.

The network is named after Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani, a notorious Islamist guerrilla commander funded and armed by the US in the 1980s to fight troops from the former Soviet Union. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Mr Haqqani and his followers joined Islamist militants in the 1990s and eventually became tied to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

“The Haqqani are among the most diehard militants today in Afghanistan. They continue to attack Afghan army and US forces in Afghanistan,” one western diplomat told the FT.

However, Pakistani leaders dating back to General Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler from 1999 to 2008, have repeatedly told their western counterparts including the US that they have no ties to the Haqqani network.

On Sunday, a second senior Pakistani government official told the FT that the US had neither provided “precise details of exactly where the problem lies geographically [within Pakistan] nor given us the technology like armed drones to attack them”.


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