The Trump administration has held back previously promised military aid of $255 million to Pakistan by attaching new conditions which, the State Department says, will allow it to review the level of its cooperation with Islamabad before making new commitments.
“The Department notified Congress on August 30 of our intent to obligate $255 million in FY 2016 Foreign Military Financing for Pakistan. At the same time, the Department is placing a pause on spending those funds and on allocating them to any specific FMF sales contracts,” said the State Department in a statement sent to Dawn.
The FMF provides grants and loans to help countries purchase US weapons and defence equipment and for acquiring defence services and military training in the United States.
“Consistent with our new South Asia strategy, this decision allows us the flexibility to continue reviewing our level of cooperation with Pakistan prior to committing new security assistance resources to projects in Pakistan,” the State Department said.
In its notification to the US Congress on Wednesday, the administration said it was putting the entire amount into an escrow account that Pakistan could access only if it did more to eradicate alleged terrorist safe havens in the tribal areas and stopped cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.
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The previous US administration had committed the money in 2015, promising to release it to Pakistan in 2016. The Trump administration did not refuse to release the funds but attached new conditions to further delay the release.
The $255 million in military assistance was the largest portion of an estimated $1.1 billion of US aid Congress had authorised in 2016.
Although figures released to the US media estimate the volume of annual US assistance to Pakistan at $1.1bn, hundreds of millions of dollars are withheld every year under different restrictions imposed since 2011, when relations between the two countries began to deteriorate after Osama bin Laden’s discovery in Abbottabad.
“The duelling messages sent to Pakistan — promising aid but attaching strings if the country’s counterterror efforts fall short — are part of an increasingly confrontational turn in an alliance that has long been strained,” commented The New York Times.
In its statement, the State Department said that while the US valued its cooperation with Pakistan and wanted to see it continue, it also wanted Islamabad to do more to eradicate terrorism.
“The President has been clear that we are looking to the Pakistani government to take decisive action against militant groups based in Pakistan that are a threat to the region. It is vital to US interests that Pakistan prevent terrorist sanctuaries,” the message said. “Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our efforts in the region.”
The statement also referred to the remarks US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made last week, saying: “We are ready to work with [the Pakistanis] to help them protect themselves against these terrorist organisations.”
The US claims to have provided Pakistan more than $33bn in aid since 2002. But Laurel Miller, Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan till June, told PBS News last week that the actual amount was much less.
“Over an extended period, the US has provided substantial support (to) Pakistan, primarily security related, but that’s been dwindling quite considerably over past years and is expected to dwindle further,” she said.
“And as a consequence, it’s not really a major point of leverage with the Pakistanis anymore. The US is not providing billions of dollars any longer to Pakistan.”
But President Trump said he would use US assistance to Pakistan to persuade Islamabad to change its policies.
The New York Times, however, reported that the US did not want to stop all its assistance to Pakistan.
“Rather than lose such a carrot, Trump administration officials said they wanted to use the money as incentive for Pakistan to change its behaviour,” the newspaper said.
But diplomatic observers in Washington pointed out that the Obama administration too tried to use the sale of eight new F-16 fighter jets to change Pakistan’s policies, as did Congress, but it did not work.