The United States of America has decided to cut off $300 million in military aid to Pakistan on the grounds that it has failed to take necessary action against terrorism emanating from its soil. Effectively disturbing the equilibrium of the US-Pak relations.
The move was announced ahead of the visit of U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and US Military Officer, General Joseph Dunford, to Islamabad on September 5. Pompeo would be the first American senior official to meet Imran Khan since he became the Prime Minister. The decision comes at a time when Pakistan is struggling from an economic crisis.
The $300 million in military aid was part of the Coalition Support Funds (CSF), a US defence department programme to reimburse allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-insurgency operations. The announcement to cut the military aid came from the State Department just days after President Donald Trump lashed out in his first tweet of the New Year, saying Pakistan had repaid years of generous US aid with “nothing but lies & deceit.” In January, President Trump announced the suspension of various other funds for Pakistan and CSF was part of it. The Trump administration has been maintaining that Islamabad is providing safe haven to insurgents who are waging a 17-year-old war in neighbouring Afghanistan. However, Pakistan denies this charge and says it has cleared its territory of all terrorist groups and in this process, Islamabad claims it has suffered thousands of military as well as civilian casualties. The Pentagon’s present arm-twisting move has put a question mark on the already frosty US-Pak relationship.
As Hardnews has reported on several occasions that the cornerstone of US-Pak relations is predicated on stabilising Afghanistan. As Shrinivasrao S Sohoni wrote in Hardnews in 2010:
It is to be noted that Pakistan’s geopolitical value draws involvement, among others, of two other key powers in pursuit of their respective national strategic aims: Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China. This makes for a complex, and complicating, coincident focus of policies in the Af-Pak region of three power blocs intrinsically antagonistic to each other (US-NATO, Saudi Arabia-Arab states, and China-DPRK). In pursuit of their corresponding national geo-strategic objectives, Pakistan is relied upon and favoured by all the three blocs. Pakistan, through six decades of skilful diplomacy, has traded on its geo-political value with all three and succeeded in securing immense regional power and influence.
Satish Jacob in this video featured in Hardnews Foreign Policy gives valuable background on how the US-Pakistan relationship bloomed during the seventies, with the long Afghan-Soviet war.
After being sworn in as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, said that bringing the country’s economy back on track will be his priority. Keeping in consideration the present economic condition of the country as Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have plummeted over the last year, it is now expected that Pakistan would be soon approaching either the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package or its “all-weather” friend China. However, the US has also counselled against an IMF bailout for Pakistan because the US considers that the money might end up repaying debts owed to China.
Last week, in a diplomatic row between US and Pakistan, a scheduled call between Pompeo and Pakistan’s new premier sparked a controversy after Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, accused the US of lying by saying in a read-out that Pompeo had pressed the Prime Minister to take “decisive action” against terrorists. Pakistan’s foreign ministry termed it as “factually incorrect” and asked for a correction from Washington. However, later, the State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert described the call as “good” and said the United States stands by its statement. In further embarrassment to Pakistan, the US later released the transcript of PM Khan and Secretary of State Pompeo’s call which clearly showed what was discussed in the talks.
Moreover, President Trump’s administration has started cutting Pakistani officers from its training and educational programmes that have been a key aspect of US-Pak ties for over more than a decade.
Therefore, it would be a big challenge for Prime Minister Khan’s government to mend ties with its American counterpart. Khan’s stated policy has been anti-US and it was a major plank in his election promises. Now after being elected, it will be a tight walk for him. To keep US interests in a compromising situation can be counter-productive but President Trump’s administration is unpredictable and Prime Minister Khan himself is temperamental. It is a potentially destabilising situation and one can expect certain diplomatic push backs.
Pompeo’s visit to Islamabad will be further followed by his visit to India for the ‘2+2′ strategic India-US dialogue. In view of strained US-Pak ties, the blossoming of Pakistan-Russia relations has also been a result of US’ increasing closeness with India.