WASHINGTON: Toughening its stance, the US today suspended more than USD 1.15 billion security assistance to Pakistan for failing to take "decisive actions" against terror groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network operating from its soil.
The freezing of all security assistance to Pakistan comes after President Donald Trump in a New Year's Day tweet accused Pakistan of giving nothing to the US but "lies and deceit" and providing "safe haven" to terrorists in return for USD 33 billion aid over the last 15 years.
The suspended amount also include USD 255 million in Foreign Military Funding (FMF) for the fiscal year 2016 as mandated by the Congress.
In addition, the Department of Defense has suspended the entire USD 900 million of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) money to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2017 and other unspent money from previous fiscal years.
"Today we can confirm that we are suspending national security assistance only, to Pakistan at this time until the Pakistani government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network," State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters.
"We consider them (terror groups) to be destabilising the region and also targeting US personnel. The US will suspend that kind of security assistance to Pakistan," she said.
The US, she said, will not be delivering military equipment or transfer security-related funds to Pakistan unless it is required by law.
In August, while unveiling his new South Asia strategy, Trump had accused Pakistan of giving "safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror," and said the time had come "for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order, and to peace".
Referring to Trump's new strategy, Nauert said despite a sustained high-level engagement by Trump administration with the government of Pakistan, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilise Afghanistan and also attack the US and allied personnel.
Department of Defence Spokesperson Lt Col Mike Andrews told PTI that National Defense Authorisation Act 2017 provides up to USD 900 million for Pakistan in the CSF.
Of these funds, USD 400 million can only be released if the Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis certifies that the Pakistan government has taken specific actions against the Haqqani Network.
"At this stage all Fiscal Year 17 CSF have been suspended, so that's the entire amount of USD 900 million," Andrews said.
During an interaction with Pentagon reporters, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis did not respond to question if he was in favour of cutting off the aid to Pakistan.
"I prefer not to address that right now because it's obviously still being formulated as policy. But I'll give my advice on it to the president. I also agree on some confidentiality there," he said.
According to a senior State Department official, no decision has been taken on the fate of USD 255 million security assistance to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2017.
The deadline for that is September 30 this year.
Mattis along with the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have travelled to Pakistan in recent months to deliver tough message to the leadership there. So, this action should not come as a surprise to them, Nauert said.
"They may say it's a surprise, but what is no surprise is that the President has expressed his concerns, Secretary Tillerson has expressed his concerns, as has Secretary Mattis, and I imagine many other government officials having those conversations with Pakistan," Nauert said.
Now, the money that has been suspended at this time does not mean that it will be suspended forever, she said.
"Pakistan has the ability to get this money back, in the future, but they have to take decisive action. They have to take decisive steps," she added.
"People have long asked, why don't you do more about Pakistan, and I think this sort of answers that question. Obviously, Pakistan is important, an important relationship to the US, because together we can work hard to combat terrorism. Perhaps no other country has suffered more from terrorism than Pakistan and many other countries in that part of the region," she said.
"They understand that, but still they aren't taking the steps that they need to take in order to fight terrorism," she said.
In an interaction with reporters, two senior state department officials insisted that such a move is not a punishment, but to provide an incentive to Pakistan to take more action against terrorist groups.
"We have not done anything that's irreversible here. All this funding is available to Pakistan, if they undertake to take the measures that we've asked of them," a senior administration official said in response to a question.
"Pakistanis have repeatedly said we don't care about this money. What matters I think to the Pakistani's is that it is the symbolism of doing this that it represents a deterioration of our relationship that they care about a great deal," the official said.
"So we were hoping that this is an incentive that they don't want to see this relationship deteriorate any further and that they're going to commit to working with us to try to find a way to put it on a more solid footing," the official added.
The US and others have long complained that Pakistan gives safe haven to the Afghan Taliban and their allies, the Haqqani network, allowing them to carry out cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies allegations but President Trump has escalated the criticism against the country since he took office.
The Pakistanis say they have suffered great losses from the longstanding war against Islamist networks and are furious that Trump has failed to acknowledge the role they have played.
Yesterday, the state department accused Pakistan of severe violations of religious freedom. It announced that it was placing Pakistan on a special watch list, pursuant to 2016 legislation. The step does not carry any serious consequences.
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