THE US has cancelled $300 million in aid to Pakistan over its failure to take decisive action against terrorists. The cancelled aid was a part of the Coalition Support Funds (CSF) which the US defence ministry provides Pakistan by way of reimbursements for expenses incurred in fighting terror. The US created CSF to help Pakistani army put down terrorist groups carrying out acts of violence in Afghanistan. The US has a strong military presence in Afghanistan, and has been talking of disengaging its forces, but has been putting it off owing to the threat of destabilization posed by the Taliban and the other terror groups. Pakistan has officially been a partner in counterinsurgency in Afghanistan but has been directly and indirectly encouraging the terror groups in the country. Pakistan has been encouraging terror groups for carrying out acts of violence in India too, but the US is more concerned about Islamabad’s covert support to terror groups targeting Afghanistan than those targeting India.
The US decision to cancel the $300 million CSF aid is not a kneejerk reaction but something that is based on a detailed assessment of Pakistan’s assistance to the US in fighting terror in Afghanistan. It is a part of a broader suspension in aid to Pakistan announced by US President Donald Trump in January this year, when he accused Islamabad of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies and deceit.” The Trump administration has been consistently warning Islamabad against providing safe haven to the terrorist groups waging a war against the legitimately elected government in Afghanistan. In order to convey US displeasure, the Trump administration has been excluding scores of Pakistani officers from the training and educational programmes the US has been conducting for over a decade. Earlier this year, another $500 million in aid to Pakistan was withdrawn at the behest of the US Congress for the same reason. So this year alone the US has withheld $800 million in aid to Pakistan.
Tensions between the US and Pakistan are mounting on the back of Imran Khan’s election as Pakistan’s new Prime Minister in July. Khan has won with the support of the Pakistan army, which does not want to give up supporting the Taliban and other terror groups to disturb stability and peace in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army favours Imran Khan because he has been expressing his opposition to US presence in Afghanistan. In his victory speech, Khan said he would seek “mutually beneficial” relations with Washington, suggesting that he felt Pakistan was not getting as much as it wanted from the US as it has given to the country. Last year, Imran Khan attacked the then foreign minister of Pakistan Khawaja Asif when he described the Islamic militant groups such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Haqqani Network as a “liability” for Pakistan. Khan went to the extent of calling Asif an “enemy” of Pakistan. These militant groups had been used by the Pakistani army to often pursue its own hardline strategy with or without the sanction of the country’s political leadership. Asif was critical of the army’s interference in politics.
However, Imran Khan has to now tread cautiously. For the US message is blunt and straight. The very fact that US defence ministry announced the decision to withhold the $300 million aid a few days before the planned visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top US military officer Joseph Dunford to Islamabad suggests that Trump wants Pakistan’s army-backed new Prime Minister to make up his mind where he wants to take his country to in so far as Afghanistan is concerned. Pompeo made it clear when he told the media that “continuing the fight against regional militants” would be the “primary part of the discussion” with Pakistan during their visit.
It is not going to be easy for Khan to decide the course. Pakistan’s strategic interests in South Asia are centred on fighting to not allow India primacy in the politics of the subcontinent. That is why, regardless of which ideology and colour the political party ruling Pakistan is, the country has not ceased backing the terror groups to keep Jammu and Kashmir in ferment and international focus. Islamabad supports the Taliban and other terror groups operating in Afghanistan in order to establish a Pakistan-friendly government in Kabul. That is what Pakistan’s strategic policy in Afghanistan has been for decades. If Pakistan allows an independent or India-friendly government to establish itself in Kabul, it would be militarily disadvantageous to it. It would be naïve to expect Imran Khan to reverse the policy. That would mean worsening of US-Pakistani relationship, providing strategic opportunities for India to exploit.