US President Donald Trump’s administration has wasted little time in ramping up pressure on new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to end alleged official support for Islamic militants.
The US military announced on September 1 that it planned to suspend US$300 million in aid to Islamabad for its perceived failure to take decisive action against militants that target US forces stationed in neighboring Afghanistan, news agencies reported.
Those include the Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban, both of which are said by US officials to operate freely from Pakistani soil.
The US has designated both armed groups as terror organizations. US officials claim both groups have sanctuaries in Pakistan from where they plot deadly attacks and regroup after ground offensives in Afghanistan. Pakistan has consistently denied it grants safe haven to the militant groups.
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said the suspended US$300 million would be “reprogammed” and spent instead on other “urgent priorities” due to a perceived lack of “decisive” Pakistan government action, news reports said.
The move, which must be passed by the US Congress to take effect, is the latest salvo in a broader suspension of US military assistance to Pakistan first announced in January. On announcing the initial suspension, Trump accused Islambad of “nothing but lies & deceit” in a widely cited tweet.
If Congress approves the latest announced suspension, the US would withhold a total of US$800 million that had earlier been earmarked for Pakistan’s defense forces, the reports said.
The suspension comes days before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to meet with Khan in Islamabad. The top US military officer in Pakistan, General Joseph Dunford, will accompany Pompeo, according to reports.
The US has maintained the possibility that the aid could be restored if Pakistan changes its ways by moving against the militant groups. The US$300 million suspension notably coincides with growing economic troubles in Pakistan, marked by dwindling reserves and spiraling debts that some suggest could result in economic collapse without a massive and prompt infusion of funds.
Khan’s newly elected government is grappling with whether to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or alternatively deep-pocketed allied nations such as China. Analysts note that the US maintains the largest share of votes at the IMF and so would have a strong voice on the terms and conditions of any bailout.
Whether that and the suspended military aid will be enough to pressure Khan into a more assertive stance on militant groups is still unclear. Indeed, Khan had earlier suggested he would shoot down US drones if they were found to enter Pakistani airspace and has openly opposed America’s open-ended 17-year military presence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has received more than US$33 billion in US assistance since 2002, including more than US$14 billion in so-called Coalition Support Funds, a Pentagon program that reimburses allies for counterinsurgency operations that support US military objectives, Reuters reported.