Donald Trump is walking the talk. Days after the United States president publicly accused Islamabad of “lies and deceit”, the US has suspended over $1.15 billion military aid to Pakistan. The decision is not surprising as it was in the making for around a year, but could be one of the most important decision taken by the Trump administration . Announcing the decision, US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert had told reporters that national security assistance to Pakistan has been suspended until the Pakistani government takes some strict action against terror groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.
Two things are clear for now. First, the US will remove the suspension if Pakistan actually changes and starts acting against the terror groups operating from its soil. However, this is highly unlikely. As senior journalist Barkha Dutt writes in the Washington Post: “For Indians, Trump’s tweet and the suspension of funds was a moment of vindication. But the unfortunate reality is that publicly shaming Pakistan, as Trump has done, and even the cuts in security aid have very little real impact on a country whose skin has grown comfortably thick from rhetorical battering.”
Second, in the name of so-called national interest, the Pakistani military establishment will defy American diktat and move closer towards the Chinese – early signals of this have started appearing from reactions in the Chinese media. Former Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani was to the point when he told Barkha Dutt that the US aid cut “may not be the huge price” that will force Pakistan to change the three-decades-old policy of terrorism.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif even told Geo News on Thursday that Islamabad would survive the US Aid cut. “They did it in the past as well, which is evident from our history. They have always betrayed us in hard times,” Geo News quoted Asif as saying.
It is apparent that Pakistan won’t compromise on continuing with its policy of terror and Trump’s loud social media attacks on Islamabad means nothing from trigger-happy Pakistani authorities. Ayesha Siddiqa writes in The Indian Express, “After coming to power, this is the loudest that US President Donald Trump may have shouted at Pakistan, but it all seems to have little effect. In fact, if anything, the import of Trump’s tweet seems to drown in the din of public outrage.”
She further writes, that in Pakistan “the popular narrative is that the US is needlessly blaming Pakistan for controlling the situation in Afghanistan when Washington itself is seen as unable to perform, despite its 46-nation strong military coalition
“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. We consider them to be destabilizing the region and also targeting US personnel,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Thursday.
Other US officials said suspended assistance includes $ 900 million in Coalition Support Funds (CSF) authorized for 2017, in addition to the $ 255 million in foreign military sales assistance from 2016 that already stands frozen.
Pakistan believes CSF is reimbursement for services and logistics it provides to the US, and not assistance. But there have long been reservations and resentment in Washington about Pakistan stiffing the US both in the reasoning and the billing process relating to CSF, while at the same time providing safe havens to terror groups that attack US troops in Afghanistan.
President Trump is notoriously sensitive to being ripped off by allies, and he made known his pique in a sulfurous New Year’s Day tweet in which he accused Pakistan of “lies and deceit.”
The suspension will not affect civilian aid, US officials said, while repeatedly emphasizing that the move was not permanent and Pakistan could earn it back with action against terror groups.
In fact, the US did not announce suspension of a further $ 255 million in military assistance allotted for fiscal 2017. Deadline for disbursement of that amount is September 30, 2018, and the US is dangling that and other frozen sums as carrots for Pakistan as it spirals into a financial abyss.
Separately, Washington also placed Pakistan, a country that constitutionally discriminates against minorities, including Muslim minorities, on a special watch list “for severe violations of religious freedom.”