US military forces Congress to back off on Lashkar-e-Taiba
The defence department argued that the US must stay focussed on the Haqqani Network, which has targeted Americans in Afghanistan, and must not distract attention towards other terrorist groups.world Updated: Nov 10, 2017 19:05 IST
American lawmakers have decided not to press for tying certain financial aid for Pakistan to counter-terrorism measures against the Lashkar-e-Taiba, as was proposed by the Senate in an omnibus legislation it passed to fund the US military in 2018, because of resistance from the US defense department.
The provision was dropped from a legislation the two chambers agreed to on Wednesday through a process called conference — meant to reconcile differing versions of a bill passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives. The legislation will now be put to a vote for passage, which is guaranteed in such circumstances.
India will be disappointed but it could take comfort from a section of the reconciled legislation that proposes to direct the executive branch to set up a formal structure to pursue relations with India under the new definition of “Major Defence Partner”.
The US declared India a Major Defence Partner, for the purpose of defence cooperation extending to trade, co-development and co-production of military equipment, in 2016, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Barack Obama. But it was left largely undefined.
A defence budget bill — the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) —codified it into law the same year, committing all succeeding presidencies to it, unless revoked. But it also did not specify how it will work. The 2018 bill directs the executive branch to finds ways to implement it.
It said a person should be appointed to shepherd the relationship as a Major Defence Partner, and also directed the Pentagon, headquarters of the US military, to devise a strategy to take it forward.
This provision was proposed by Senator Mark Warner, who is co-chair of the chamber’s India Caucus.
But New Delhi will be very disappointed by the dropping of the clause that had made payment of a substantial amount of aid to Pakistan from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) conditional to action against the LeT.
The CSF is a mechanism to compensate countries that support the US-led international coalition forces in Afghanistan militarily and logistically.
Pakistan, it has been proposed in the reconciled final legislation, will get $5700 million under this head. Half of it, as proposed in the Senate bill, was to be tied to certification from the executive branch that Pakistan had indeed acted against LeT and the Haqqani Network, which operate from its soil.
The clause was killed during the reconciliation conference. Aides from the House of Representatives had issues with the addition of LeT and bumped it up to the defence department for a second opinion.
The answer, according to sources privy to the negotiations, was “an unequivocal no — this would amount to shifting the goal post for the Pakistanis”.
The defense department argued that the US must stay focussed on the Haqqani Network, which has targeted Americans in Afghanistan and emerged as the biggest challenge in the region. The US must not distract attention towards other terrorist groups.
Armed with this advisory from the defence department, negotiators dug in and forced the Senate to agree to drop the reference to the LeT and “keep up the battle for other issues”. There wasn’t enough push back from the upper chamber, which has decided to fight this battle at a later, more convenient, date.
Section 1213 of the defence authorisation bill passed by the Senate in September had proposed to make CSF payments incumbent on Pakistan conducting “military operations that are contributing to significantly disrupting the safe havens, fundraising and recruiting efforts, and freedom of movement of the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba in Pakistan”.
The bill had added Pakistan must demonstrate “it has taken steps to demonstrate its commitment to prevent the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba from using any Pakistan territory as a safe haven and for fundraising and recruiting efforts”.
It must also show it is “making an attempt to actively coordinate with the Government of Afghanistan to restrict the movement of militants, such as the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border”.
Pakistan must also show “progress in arresting and prosecuting senior leaders and mid-level operatives of the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba”.
That will have to wait for another time, said a congressional aide.