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US begins review of Pakistan ties with focus on aid and support

The US will carry out a comprehensive review of its relations with Pakistan on the orders of President Donald Trump, including a fresh look at the level of aid provided to Islamabad.

world Updated: Jun 15, 2017 00:19 IST
Yashwant Raj
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on June 13, 2017.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on June 13, 2017.(Reuters)

The United States is starting an inter-agency review of relations with Pakistan on the orders of President Donald Trump, which will specifically include a fresh look at the level of aid and support provided to Islamabad.

“We are beginning an inter-agency policy review towards Pakistan,” secretary of state Rex Tillerson told a hearing of a committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday in response to a question about aid to Pakistan.

“This (the question of aid) is going to be one of the considerations,” he said. “The president has asked the questions specifically about our level of support and funding for Pakistan.”

Tillerson was responding to a question about why the US should continue to give aid and other financial support to Pakistan in view of its continued support for terrorism and specially when Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who helped in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, continues to be in prison. The issue of Afridi was raised by Republican lawmaker Dana Rohrabacher.

The announcement of the review, which was not previously reported, will not surprise South Asia watchers as they have seen pressure mount on the Trump administration, almost from the start, to consider tougher measures to force Pakistan to give up its use of terror as a tool to serve its strategic aims.

Tillerson went on to say, “No decision is to be taken until we complete that policy review as you well can understand (that) Pakistan and our relations with them touches on some much broader issues relative to stability in Afghanistan and how we achieve that and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

“We have a very complex relationship with the government of Pakistan,” Tillerson said in perhaps the most charitable characterisation of a relationship that has been in a downward spiral for may years now, specially after bin Laden was found hiding and killed in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.

Pakistan is already slated to get less in Trump’s new budget. It has been earmarked $800 million in reimbursements for its support to US-led coalition forces combating insurgency and terror, which is $100 million less than the amount set aside for 2016. This is not money that Pakistan gets for sure, because payments under this head depend on Islamabad’s counter-terrorism efforts.

Of the $900 million earmarked in 2016 under the head Coalition Support Fund (CSF) in the US military budget, Pakistan received only $550 million that was transferred in March 2017.

Pakistan stands to suffer cuts under other heads as well. From the US state department, Pakistan will receive $190 million less than in 2016 — going down from $544 million to $334 million, of which $100 million will be earmarked for foreign military assistance, money it can use to buy military gear from the US. This amount too is down from $225 million ($265 million according to a different account).