Washington (Agencies): The United States on Saturday made the final decision to cancel another $300 million — or Rs36.9 billion — in aid to Pakistan due to Islamabad's lack of “decisive actions” in support of regional American strategy, the Pentagon said.
The so-called Coalition Support Funds (CSF) were part of a broader suspension in aid to Pakistan announced by US President Donald Trump at the start of the year when he accused Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies & deceit.”
In a new blow to deteriorating ties, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who had an opportunity to authorise the said $300 million in CSF funds through this summer — if he saw concrete Pakistani actions to go after insurgents — chose not to do so, despite some US officials having held out the possibility that Islamabad could win back that support if it changed its behaviour.
“Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed,” Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner, the spokesperson, said, adding that the Pentagon aimed to spend this money on “other urgent priorities” if approved by US Congress.
Faulkner said another $500 million in CSF was stripped by the Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, which brings the total withheld funds to $800 million.
However, a Pakistani official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was unaware of a formal notification of the US decision on assistance but said one was expected by the end of September.
The disclosure comes ahead of an expected visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top US military officer, General Joseph Dunford, to Islamabad. Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that combating militants would be a “primary part of the discussion”.
The Trump administration has persistently alleged that Pakistan was granting safe haven to insurgents who are waging a 17-year-old war in neighbouring Afghanistan, a charge Pakistan denies.
"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 had tweeted at the start of this year.
"They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more," he warned.
Islamabad, however, has maintained that it has indiscriminately carried out operations against all terrorists, including the Haqqani network, and that the proof lay in the Operation Zarb-e-Azb carried out in Waziristan.
Earlier, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director-General Major General Asif Ghafoor had talked of how Pakistan never fought for money, but for peace, and that the Army had indiscriminately targeted terrorists at a “heavy cost of blood and treasure”.
Experts on the Afghan conflict, America’s longest war, believe that Washington is piling accusations and making hostile decisions in order to shift the blame of its failure in Kabul on to Pakistan.
They also argue that the alleged militant safe havens in Pakistan have allowed Taliban-linked insurgents in Afghanistan a place to plot deadly strikes and regroup after ground offensives.
On the other hand, the Trump-led government also banned two Pakistani companies over what it claims is their involvement in activities pertaining to nuclear and missile trade.
The two corporations — namely Technology Links Pvt Ltd and Techcare Services FZ — were added to the nuclear and missile-related Entity List of the US Department of Commerce's Export Administration Regulations, a notification issued by the American ministry of trade said, citing their work against the US national security and foreign policy interests.
The Pentagon’s decision showed that the US, which has sought to change Pakistani behaviour, is still increasing pressure on Islamabad's security apparatus.
It also underscored that its South Asian ally, with which relations have been tense, as of late, has yet to deliver the kind of change sought by Washington.
“It is a calibrated, incremental ratcheting up of pressure on Pakistan,” Sameer Lalwani, the co-director of the South Asia program at the Washington-based think tank Stimson Center, said.
Reuters reported in August that the Trump administration has quietly started cutting scores of Pakistani officers from coveted training and educational programs that have been a hallmark of bilateral military relations for more than a decade.
The Pentagon made similar determinations on CSF in the past but this year’s move could get more attention from Islamabad, and its new prime minister, Imran Khan, at a time when its economy is struggling.
In his victory speech, Khan, who has opposed the US’ open-ended presence in Afghanistan, had said he wanted “mutually beneficial” relations with Washington.
Pakistan has received more than $33 billion in US assistance since 2002, including more than $14 billion in CSF — a US Defense Department program to reimburse allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-insurgency operations.
Pakistan could again be eligible next year for CSF.
Regardless, the nation's foreign exchange reserves have plummeted over the past year and it will soon decide on whether to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or friendly nations such as China.
“They are squeezing them when they know that they’re vulnerable and it is probably a signal about what to expect should Pakistan come to the IMF for a loan,” Lalwani said. The United States has the largest share of votes at the IMF.