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US likely to slash Pakistan’s defence aid from $700 million to $150 million

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2019, as the defence spending bill is known, is still to be cleared by President Donald Trump and does not link future payments of security-related aid to Pakistan to the country’s counter-terrorism efforts.

world Updated: Jul 29, 2018 07:58 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US-Pakistan ties,Pakistan,US aid to Pakistan
File photo of US and Pakistan national flags at the State Department in Washington.(REUTERS)

The US is likely to drastically reduce Pakistan’s security-related aid, from $700 million this year to $150 million next year, an indication, experts say, that the country may finally be giving up on its difficult ally’s ability to walk the talk on counter-terrorism.

The defence spending bill for 2019, headed for President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature, perhaps as early as next week, does not link future payments of security-related aid to Pakistan to the country’s counter-terrorism efforts as had become the practice in recent years, going back to at least 2015. Missing from the current document are words and phrases that had come to be associated with financial assistance to Islamabad such as the “Haqqani Network”, “safe havens” and “counter-terrorism”.

But Pakistan will have to pay for this reprieve, should it think of it as such, with drastically reduced security-related funding. That could be as low as $150 million, according to experts who have followed US funding for Pakistan, a non-NATO ally that is now called by most American officials and lawmakers a “duplicitous” ally or “frenemy”.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2019, as the defence spending bill is known, cuts the flow of defence-related security aid for Pakistan, abulk of which earlier went under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) as reimbursement for expenses incurred in support of the US-led international coalition in Afghanistan.

Under CSF, which has also been called “legal bribery to Pakistan’s generals”, Islamabad. has received $14.5 billion since 2002, the year after the US entered Afghanistan.

Pakistan will now get this drastically reduced aid, against new conditions, which experts have said are far easier to fulfil, under a different head ( border security operations) along with others countries such as Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt and Oman.

“… To the Government of Pakistan for purposes of supporting and enhancing efforts of the armed forces of Pakistan to increase security and sustain increased security along the border of Pakistan with Afghanistan,” the bill says.

The bill was passed by the US House of Representatives on Thursday.

Anish Goel, a former White House official and a former senior member of the US senate armed services committee staff who used to write the South Asia and relevant parts of the defence spending bills until 2017 (he has moved on since), said: “The legislation reduces the total amount of funds provided for reimbursement to Pakistan to $150 million. This is a significant reduction from the $700 million that was available through CSF last year.”

Another expert, who has studied US funding for Pakistan for years, agreed with that assessment, and said on condition of anonymity that the NDAA 2019 had cut “total global CSF authorization to $350 million and, within that, Pakistan will be limited to $150 million”, but as reimbursement for border-security operations, not CSF. The remaining $200 million will be “available” to reimburse Pakistan or other nations as CSF, “but is unlikely to be used for that purpose”.

While cutting the fund, Goel said, the “legislation gets rid of the certification requirements for Pakistani action against the Haqqani Network and it also gets rid of the authority to reimburse Pakistan for counterterrorism. Hence, the Pentagon no longer has any tools to apply pressure to the Pakistanis to undertake counterterrorism activities or action against the Haqqani Network.”

Here is what the defence bill for 2018 said about conditions tied to half of the $700 million set aside for Pakistan this year. The secretary of defence had to certify that “Pakistan continues to conduct military operations that are contributing to significantly disrupting the safe havens, fundraising and recruiting efforts, and freedom of movement of the Haqqani Network in Pakistan; Pakistan has taken steps to demonstrate its commitment to prevent the Haqqani Network from using any Pakistan territory as a safe haven and for fundraising and recruiting efforts; the Government of Pakistan is making an attempt to actively coordinate with the Government of Afghanistan to restrict the movement of militants, such as the Haqqani Network, along the AfghanistanPakistan border; and Pakistan has shown progress in arresting and prosecuting senior leaders and mid-level operatives of the Haqqani Network.”

The language, text and words had been similar, though not the same, in all the previous defence spending legislations going back at least to the 2015 NDAA passed the year before in 2014.

And here are the new conditions that will need to be certified by the secretary of defense for clearing reimbursements for border-security operations: “The military and security operations of Pakistan pertaining to border security and ancillary activities for which reimbursement is sought have been coordinated with United States military representatives in advance of the execution of such operations and activities. The goals and desired outcomes of each such operation or activity have been established and agreed upon in advance by the United States and Pakistan. A process exists to verify the achievement of the goals and desired outcomes established in accordance with the “above” paragraph. The Government of Pakistan is making an effort to actively coordinate with the Government of Afghanistan on issues relating to border security on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.”

A former defence department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity said these “certs (certifications) are more generic and easier to pass”.

First Published: Jul 29, 2018 07:31 IST