US suspends security assistance to Pakistan until it acts against terrorist groups

File photo of United States President Donald Trump
File photo of United States President Donald Trump
Just days after United States President Donald Trump hit out at Pakistan, accusing it of giving "lies and deceit" in return for the billions of dollars in aid that the US gave it over the last fifteen years and providing safe havens to terrorists, his Administration has confirmed that it was suspending security assistance to Pakistan until its government took decisive action against terrorist groups.
However, administration officials made it clear that the freeze was temporary and could be lifted if Pakistan changed its behaviour.
"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," Mr. Trump had said in his first tweet of the New Year on micro-blogging site Twitter on January 1.
"They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!" he had said in his rather harshly worded post.
The tweet was seen as the strongest warning yet from Washington to Islamabad on the issue of support for terrorist groups operating from its soil.
The latest announcement on the freeze on nearly all security aid to Pakistan is a clear signal of Washington's growing impatience with Islamabad's reluctance to crack down on terrorist groups operating from its soil.
Though the administration did not provide any numbers, various sources have indicated that the decision could affect about $ 1.3 billion in annual aid to Pakistan. Ties between Washington and Islamabad have mostly been downhill since Mr. Trump took over as President a year ago, though Pakistan's role as a safe haven for terrorist and extremist groups has soured relations between the two countries since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and elsewhere.
According to the sources, the suspension would include about $ 1.1 billion in Coalition Support Funds, which the Pentagon provides to help defray the costs of counterterrorism operations in Pakistan. The US also will not deliver military equipment to the country. It had earlier held up $255 million in State Department military financing.
"As you recall, a few months ago we announced the suspension of $255 million in the Foreign Military Assistance. That’s basically the money that we would provide to Pakistan; Pakistan then, in return, uses that money to buy equipment, military equipment, from the United States. That was all suspended. That was announced back in August," US Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert said at her press briefing  here on Thursday.
"Today we can confirm that we are suspending ... security assistance, security assistance only, to Pakistan at this time until the Pakistani Government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network," Ms. Nauert said.
"We consider them to be destabilizing the region and also targeting U.S. personnel. The United States will suspend that kind of security assistance to Pakistan," she said.
Asked about the amounts involved, Ms. Nauert said, "So we are still working through some of those dollar numbers right now."
"The President announced his South Asia policy in August of 2017. You all remember that. He made it clear that no partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials. It has been more than four months since the President’s speech, and despite a sustained high-level engagement by this administration with the Government of Pakistan, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilize Afghanistan and also attack U.S. and allied personnel.
"Pakistan has greatly suffered from terrorism, and the security services have been effective in combatting the groups that target Pakistani interests such as al-Qaida, ISIS, and the Pakistani Taliban.
"We have now worked closely with Pakistan against these groups. Now, just as we have made Pakistan’s enemies our own, we need Pakistan to deny safe haven to or lawfully detain those terrorists and militants who threaten U.S. interests. The United States stands ready to work with Pakistan in combatting all terrorists without distinction, and we hope to be able to renew and deepen our bilateral security relationship when Pakistan demonstrates its willingness to aggressively confront the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other terrorist and militant groups that operate from within its country.
"So we will not be delivering military equipment or transfer security-related funds to Pakistan unless it is required by law...There may be some exemptions that are made on a case-by-base basis if they’re determined to be critical to national security interests," she said.
Asked for details about the kind of military equipment that the U.S. would not be providing to Pakistan, Ms. Nauert said that that was solely under the Department of Defense.
To a question about whether any of the recent attacks in Afghanistan, some of which had resulted in the deaths of Americans, had been attributed to groups harboured by Pakistan, she said, "Yeah. I mean, that is certainly a fair question. And some of that would be under intelligence, which I wouldn’t be able to get into, and some of what would be probably still under investigation by the Department of Defense."
Asked how the evaluation was reached and what was the failure of Pakistan that had caused the decision, she said, "Well, this is something that should not come as a surprise to Pakistan because the President, Secretary Tillerson, and Secretary Mattis have all had conversations with Pakistani officials alerting them to our concerns that Pakistan has not done enough to detain, to take care of – and when I say 'take care of', I mean round up – terrorist and militant groups operating from within Pakistan. We’ve had a series of discussions with Pakistan about that, telling Pakistan that they need to take more decisive action."
"Now, the money that has been suspended at this time does not mean that it will be suspended forever. Pakistan has the ability to get this money back, if you will, in the future, but they have to take decisive action. They have to take decisive steps. People have long asked, why don’t you do more about Pakistan, and I think this sort of answers that question. Obviously, Pakistan is important, an important relationship to the United States, because together we can work hard to combat terrorism. Perhaps no other country has suffered more from terrorism than Pakistan and many other countries in that part of the region. They understand that, but still they aren’t taking the steps that they need to take in order to fight terrorism," Ms. Nauert said.
Ms. Nauert said the United States had been very clear with Pakistan about what it needed to do in this regard.
"We’ve long had conversations with Pakistan about what they need to do and how they need to do more to help in the fight against terrorism, so I think this was no surprise," she said.
"This President rolled out this strategy, the South Asia strategy, back in August, making it clear in some pretty tough words – remember a lot – some folks had criticized us for being blunt with Pakistan. Some people had criticized us for not being blunt enough with Pakistan in the past. So I think this administration has spoken very clearly in terms of what it is asking Pakistan to do," she said.
When reminded that after the August speech Mr. Trump had tweeted his thanks to Pakistan for its cooperation on many fronts and that Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis both had had successful visits to that country and asked what had changed in the last week, Ms. Nauert said, "I don’t know that anything necessarily changed. With a lot of countries around the world, we have complex relationships. We talk about it in the sense of a marriage. Some days you have better days than others."
"They have certainly been helpful in some instances. You all know that. The Coleman family – assisted with bringing home the American family. He was Canadian, she’s American, but the family from Pakistan. And we appreciated their help on that. But again, there are concrete steps that Pakistan needs to take," she added.
Asked whether the U.S. was also looking at cross-border terrorism towars India and Pakistan's failure to bring those responsible for the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai to book, Ms. Nauert said, "Well, we have certainly expressed our concern about the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks being let out of house arrest in Pakistan. To my knowledge, that has nothing to do with that. There is a $10 million reward out for, I think, information leading to his rearrest, the person who is the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks who was let go in Pakistan.
"So we’ve been very clear about our displeasure with that individual being let go, and that’s why we like to remind people that there is a $10 million Rewards for Justice program out for him," she said.
Asked if the fact that the administration was willing to make exceptions could mean that it might not actually withhold any significant amount of money from Pakistan, Ms. Nauert said, "Well, I think when we talk about how some of this is dependent on the national security situation, some of that is just going to be evolving over time, and determining – because you have to be fluid in any kind of environment where you’re going after terrorists, in a counterterrorism environment. So some of that is just going to have to be fluid."
But she felt it was unfair to jump to the conclusion that money would not be suspended. "We are announcing today that that money will be suspended, but naturally, any administration in this kind of environment would need to have some flexibility, and I think it’s just that kind of flexibility that is built in," she added.
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