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Pakistan lost $1.66 billion in Trump’s 2018 aid freeze

The department of defense put a dollar figure on the administration’s growing dissatisfaction with Pakistan Tuesday with Pentagon informing reporters that “$1.66 billion of security assistance to Pakistan is suspended.

world Updated: Nov 21, 2018 23:23 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
donald trump,pakistan,pakistan aid
The Trump administration had announced in January it was suspending nearly $2 billion in security assistance to Pakistan for its failure to take decisive action against terrorists operating from its soil.(REUTERS)

The department of defense put a dollar figure on the administration’s growing dissatisfaction with Pakistan Tuesday with Pentagon informing reporters that “$1.66 billion of security assistance to Pakistan is suspended.” No details were offered, triggering speculation in some quarters that this was an add-on suspension, of new funds, in view of recent criticism of Pakistan by the US president over Osama bin Laden.

“This is not a new decision or a new announcement on the Coalition Support Funds (CSF) security assistance freeze,” Lt Colonel Kone Faulkner, Pentagon spokesperson, said in an email to Hindustan Times, referring to the programme under which Pakistan has received the bulk of US security assistance, as reimbursement for operations undertaken to assist US-led international coalition force in Afghanistan.

“The suspension of security assistance to Pakistan was announced in January 2018. CSF is included in the suspension, which remains in place. The $1.66 billion figure provided yesterday is a total of security assistance dollars to Pakistan that has been suspended to date.”

The Trump administration had announced in January it was suspending nearly $2 billion in security assistance to Pakistan for its failure to take decisive action against terrorists operating from its soil. A remaining portion of that suspended money — $300 million — was repurposed some months ago at the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

That was also seen erroneously as new suspension, a US official said on background. “It was repurposed to be spent under under a different budgetary head to prevent it from lapsing.” That money was from the defense department’s 2018 budget — the National Defense Appropriation Act, 2018 — and it would have lapsed as unspent allocation.

An amount of approximately the same amount, $300 million, is “sitting there, standing by for Pakistan for this year (from the 2019 budget) should the suspension be lifted”, the official said, adding, on background once again, that determination will be made at the presidential level,. The secretary of state has to make the determination technically, and certify it, based on Pakistani counter-terrorism actions, for the money to be released.

The Trump administration has continued to press Pakistan to do more in bilateral settings and meetings and through public remarks and comments, making counter-terrorism the headline topic in engagements with the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan as well.

Those exchanges have not always been pleasant. President Trump denounced Pakistan in a recent interview to Fox New for “not doing a damn thing” for the United States despite the billions it has received in assistance. He cited as evidence fact that Osama bin Laden was living in a “beautiful” mansion in Abbottabad in Pakistan, before a US navy SEALs team killed him in 2011.

Prime Minister Khan hit back in a series of tweets. “No Pakistani was involved in 9/11 but Pak decided to participate in US War on Terror. Pakistan suffered 75,000 casualties in this war & over $123 bn was lost to economy. US ‘aid’ was a minuscule $20 bn.”

But there is approximately $300 million on the table for Pakistan if it able to provide sufficient proof it’s taking decisive counter-terrorism measures indeed, provided it can.

”It will take more than cosmetic steps by Pakistan to get the Trump administration to unfreeze security assistance,” said Joshua White, a former Pentagon official. “Washington is looking for serious and sustained efforts against the Haqqanis [Haqqani Network], and active measures to incentivize the Taliban to engage in peace talks.”

He added: “I also suspect that any resumption of security assistance would be phased, focusing first on restoring military exchanges and narrowly-targeted counterterrorism assistance programs.”

First Published: Nov 21, 2018 22:42 IST