The US has been cutting down on the financial assistance that it offers to Pakistan under various heads over the past few years, with little outcome. It remains unlikely that the latest US intimidation will get Islamabad to act against terror.
Ties between the United States of America and Pakistan turned frostier with the former suspending all security assistance to Pakistan until Islamabad takes “decisive action” against terror groups. “Until the Pakistani government takes decisive action against terror groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network — we consider them to be destabilising the region and also targeting US personnel — the US will suspend that kind of security assistance to Pakistan,” US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
The development, which is likely to translate into an over $1.15 billion hit for Pakistan, comes on the back of US president Donald Trump blaming the Islamic nation for “lies and deceit” despite $33 billion in aid from the US in the last 15 years. The president’s remarks were quickly followed up with the US suspending $255 million in aid to Pakistan.
As significant and sudden as the US’ shift in stance towards Pakistan—virtually highlighting its role in aiding and abetting terrorism as a matter of state policy—may appear, data presents a different picture.
An IndiaSpend analysis of data released by the US Congressional Research Service shows a sharp reduction in US military aid to Pakistan over the last five years. As per the CRS data, US security aid to Pakistan fell from $849 million in FY 2012 to $322 million in FY 2016, showing a 62 per cent drop in monetary assistance.
The cut in assistance began after US special forces raided a campus in Abbottabad in Pakistan and killed al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in May 2011. Besides the security assistance, economic and humanitarian aid to Pakistan has also declined 77% from $1.1 billion in financial year 2012 to $246 million in financial year 2016.
Will Pakistan Budge?
If the trend that the data points to is any indication, there is little reason to expect a change in Pakistan’s policy towards terror. That terrorist groups exist and thrive in Pakistan is no secret, but it is the role of its army and covert agencies that is now under the global glare.
Still, there is little indication that Pakistan will deliver the “decisive” action against militant organisations that the US expects of it. And there is good reason why.
First, Pakistan knows China has got its back. Compared to the $33 billion that Pakistan has received in aid from the US in the past years, Chinese investments promise to be much higher, courtesy China’s ambitious CPEC, a significant part of its larger Belt and Road Initiative. China has promised Pakistan investments to the tune of $57 billion in infrastructure and energy as part of the Belt and Road project.
Second, Pakistan knows that US needs its territory to control its war in Afghanistan and expects US to come around sooner or later. As per the IndiaSpend analysis, the post-9/11 era has seen Pakistan receive over $13 billion in Coalition Support Funds (CSF) from the US since 2002. These funds are meant to reimburse Pakistan for its “operational and logistical support of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations” in the region, the CRS notes.
China Watching Closely
A day after the US decision to hold back $255 million in aid to Pakistan, Islamabad responded by replacing the dollar with the yuan for bilateral trade with Beijing. Although the decision was under consideration for a while, the message that it sent across was indicative of the increasing bonhomie between the two ‘all-weather allies’ and what China has to offer to Pakistan as a counter to the US.
A statement by China’s state-run daily Global Times attested this understanding. “China and Pakistan enjoy an all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation, Beijing will without doubt not give up on Islamabad.”
Contrast this with Pakistan’s response to the US threats and one can assume the geopolitical warfare that is likely to be unleashed in the days to come. For Indian diplomacy, these will be testing times.