Trump may tighten screws on Pakistan, freeze billions of dollars of military aid 

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Updated: March 21, 2017 5:57:17 PM

Billions of dollars of military aid to Pakistan is under fresh scrutiny as pressure mounts on US President Donald Trump from top generals, officials and research groups for a policy review on the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.

(Source: Reuters)

Billions of dollars of military aid to Pakistan is under fresh scrutiny as pressure mounts on U.S. President Donald Trump from top generals, officials and research groups for a policy review on the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.

With relations between the long-term allies frayed, Pakistan should expect a reduction in aid under the new U.S. government, said a U.S. diplomat, who asked not to be identified as there hasn’t yet been a decision from the Trump administration.

Any further cut in U.S. military aid, which includes direct financing and training to Pakistan’s powerful army, would be an added blow to the nation’s widening current account and fiscal deficits. It may also threaten the country’s improved security situation following an army push against insurgents that came after more than 100 students were killed by the Pakistani Taliban in 2014.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Pakistan has received billions of dollars in U.S. military aid while providing supply lines for its invasion of Afghanistan. Ties between the countries have long been uneasy and complex — Pakistan is accused of harboring militants carrying out attacks in neighboring Afghanistan and India, and the U.S. has demanded it take action.

For its part, Pakistan has denied using proxy forces to influence foreign policy objectives, pointing to the thousands of its soldiers who have died battling domestic insurgent groups.

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“After over $40 billion in assistance to Pakistan, helping build Pakistan’s military and boost its economy, Pakistan is still seen as a country that supports jihadi groups that kill Americans, hurts American interests and refuses to change its policies,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.S.

There is strong support in the U.S. and the new administration to reduce military funding to the country, said Haqqani, now director for South and Central Asia at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.

Trump has said little about Pakistan since his election victory. In December, he called Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “a terrific guy” and offered to help resolve the country’s outstanding problems, according to details of a phone conversation released by Sharif’s office.

But he hasn’t always felt so warmly. In 2012, he tweeted: “Get it straight. Pakistan is not our friend” and called on Pakistan to “apologize to us for providing safe sanctuary for Osama Bin Laden for 6 years? Some ‘ally’.”

Last week, Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal — entitled “America First” — called for “deep cuts” to foreign assistance with a 28.5 percent funding reduction for international programs, including the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Pakistan is the sixth largest recipient of American aid.

“We would like continuity in the support for the fight” against terrorism, said Musadiq Malik, a spokesman for Sharif.

‘Holistic Review’

While Pakistan’s military has cracked down on militants in northern Waziristan, suffering heavy casualties in the process, the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network still use bases in Pakistan to launch attacks on U.S.-backed forces, according to General John W. Nicholson, who heads NATO forces in Afghanistan. Nicholson said the U.S. needs a “holistic review” of its policy toward Pakistan.

“It’s very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven,” Nicholson told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 9. “We need to improve the pressure applied on the Haqqanis and the Taliban on the Pakistan side of the border.”

In August, the U.S. withheld $300 million to Pakistan after then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter found he couldn’t certify that enough action had been taken against the Haqqani Network. In late January, in a move interpreted as an attempt to placate the U.S., Hafiz Saeed, the alleged planner of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was placed under house arrest in Lahore. He has denied involvement in the India attacks and has never been charged despite being detained multiple times.

Pressure has been building to reduce U.S. military aid to Pakistan, according to Shaista Tabassum, chairwoman of the international relations department at the University of Karachi.

Global Responsibility

“Even during the Obama administration there were objections on Pakistan’s policy” on the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, she said. “So how could we expect a new president to give a free hand to Pakistan to go and do what they want to do in Afghanistan?”

Relations with the U.S. are likely to deteriorate “unless Pakistan follows up its actions against Saeed with meaningful steps to combat other terrorist groups, particularly the Haqqani Network,” Sasha Riser-Kositsky, a South Asia analyst at Eurasia Group, said in a report last month.

A further cut in military aid would come as an added blow to Pakistan’s widening deficits, he said.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said in an interview that continuity of funding would be welcomed given the cost of a recent extension of anti-terrorism operations. Pakistan suffered a spate of bombings last month — which Dar said was related to a renewed push against militants.

Dar said he may travel to the U.S. to meet Trump’s team before a routine visit in April for meetings with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

“Defeating terrorism is a global responsibility and we are playing our due part,” he said.

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