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“The problem is that never before has there been a real danger that the U.S. and Pakistan begin to operate like enemies rather than troubled allies. Even when Pakistan went from being the most allied of allies to being the most sanctioned of sanctioned states in 1990, there was never a concern of direct U.S. action against Pakistan. Now, you can’t rule it out completely”.

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Sumera B Reshi

On 1st January, US President Donald Trump targeted Pakistan and threatened to stop financial assistance to Islamabad. Almost $2 billion US aid could be affected by President Trump’s suspension of the security assistance to Pakistan, $ 1 billion for planned military assistance, including $255 million in foreign military financing.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They gave safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help,” said Donald Trump.

The announcement regarding the suspension of the financial aid signalled growing American frustration over Pakistan’s level of cooperation. Since past 17 years, US has been actively involved in the war in Afghanistan and this war has proved a nightmare rather than a victory. While the US seems very dissatisfied with Pakistan, Pakistan, on the other hand, felt that it has become the victim of the American war on terror. Pakistan claimed that it has faced numerous casualties at home and the war has cost it more than $120 billion.

According to Heather Nauert, State Department spokeswoman, “despite sustained high-level engagement with Pakistan’s government since Trump unveiled a South Asia strategy in August, “the Taliban and Haqqani network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilize Afghanistan and attack the U.S. and allied personnel.” She further said until Pakistan takes “decisive action” against those groups, security assistance will remain suspended.

On the contrary, Pakistani officials condemned the Trump administration’s decision to suspend military aid to Pakistan. They (Pakistani officials) complained what they called “arbitrary deadlines” and “unilateral pronouncements”.

“Working toward enduring peace requires mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goal posts are counterproductive in addressing common threats.”

A statement which came from Pakistan’s National Security Committee called President Trump’s comment “factually incorrect” and “completely incomprehensible.”

Pakistan has been receiving financial aid from the US under various heads and since the US is losing its grip in Afghanistan, Washington decided to tighten the purse strings and demanded more action on the ground against terrorist network in Afghanistan. A few years back, everything appeared rosy between the US and Pakistan. But things have changed dramatically now. The honeymoon between the US and Pakistan couldn’t stand the test of the time. Soon after Trump declared its renewed South Asia strategy in August 2017, the US kept $255 million in military assistance to Pakistan in suspension and demanded specific action against terrorists.

Moreover, James Mattis, Secretary of Defense conveyed to Pakistan that it “must redouble its efforts to confront military and terrorists operating within the country.” Also, Trump’s New Year Twitter post indicates that the Trump administration is not satisfied with Pakistan’s response to the US demand.

According to Moeed Yusuf, USIP analyst the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is at a more dangerous point than at any time in its 70-year history. “The issue is not that either side wants to break the relationship. Nor is a break in itself going to be unprecedented,” Yusuf said.

“The problem is that never before has there been a real danger that the U.S. and Pakistan begin to operate like enemies rather than troubled allies. Even when Pakistan went from being the most allied of allies to being the most sanctioned of sanctioned states in 1990, there was never a concern of direct U.S. action against Pakistan. Now, you can’t rule it out completely”.

Yusuf contends that Pakistan is not afraid of US aid slash rather it is Pakistan’s fear of India which is going to determine their strategic calculus. Yusuf supports the belief that the US has used aid reduction to pressure Pakistan in the past as well. “In the 1990s, the United States slashed its aid in an effort to force Pakistan to halt its development of nuclear weapons. Not only did the program speed up, but Pakistan’s nuclear kingpin, A.Q. Khan also proliferated nuclear technology,” selling elements of the country’s systems for building nuclear arms,” added Yusuf.

More likely, the move to cut aid is a pressure tactic—a signal that this is the start of a string of actions to hurt Pakistan if it doesn’t do more to help the United States in Afghanistan, he added.

Amid the war of words on Twitter, Trump called out Pakistan and named India its partner.  “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” he said. He hinted closeness with India in August 2017 when he publicly announced his South Asia Strategy. The US has significantly cut back assistance to Pakistan during remaining years of Obama reign. The reduction in financial aid actually started in the later years of the Obama administration but intensified the moment Donald Trump stepped in.

According to an article published in The Hindu, dated 1st January 2018, the US cut back $2177 million dollars in 2014, $1604 million in 2015, $1118 million in 2016 and $526 million in 2017 to Pakistan.  Further, the US has made the distribution of Pentagon’s Coalition Support Fund (CSF) tougher. This fund used to reimburse Pakistan for logical and operational support of US-led military operations.

The cardinal question is why Trump appears so pissed off with Pakistan when Pakistan had been a darling ally? Imtiyaz Gul, editor Strategic Affairs summarizes Trump’s contagion bitterness & blazing ire toward Pakistan as Firstly, Trump’s policy is to remain resolute on China’s expansion in Asia through One Belt One Road (OBOR).

Secondly, Trump wants to damage the regional support infrastructure for China, including Pakistan which is at the core of OBOR through CPEC because it is easy to intimidate Pakistan than to China. Thirdly, the US is at the implicit war with Pakistan, Iran and Russia since all the three are located in the close proximity to Afghanistan and it holds Pakistan responsible for all its odds.

Gul describes Pakistan’s response to aid slash “extremely measured and non-emotional” thus far. He further explains that a direct disagreement with the US is neither desirable nor feasible and under the advice of Beijing and Moscow, Pakistan can ward off any pressure arising from Trump’s threat.

So now the US has decided to bring down financial aid to Pakistan, will then Pakistan stand this test or bow before Trump’s list of demands? Security experts believe that the aid reduction is likely to force Pakistan to squeeze its military budget, at least in the short run.

Profs Hasan Askari Rizvi, a defense analyst and author of the book, Military, State and Society in Pakistan opines that in case the US is adamant on slashing financial aid to Pakistan, then Pakistan has to shelve off plans to upgrade its military material and manpower resources. Profs. Rizvi also believes that the aid cut is a setback to Pakistan because its long-term ally China or any other friendly country can’t entirely replace the resources that Pak needs to keep its military up-t0-date.

Further, experts believe that if the US suspends the aid, the military will be forced to cut back support to militant groups that are believed to have sanctuaries, recruitment and training facilities in Pakistan.  They argue that there will be some invisible changes in Pakistan’s approach to militants. As per Profs. Rizvi, “At the very least, they may ask groups like the Haqqani network to go low-key for a while.”

It is likely that Pakistanis may create hurdles or cause delays in the transit of such supplies, but it is doubtful whether Pakistan can block the route completely keeping the harsh US attitude in view and if it does block the route that could lead to suspension of all ties according to analysts.

Besides the US announcement of aid reduction, the US is still providing Pakistan with non-military aid. And even in the case of military assistance, it is believed the US may follow a “condition and issue-based approach” where funds would be released for identified and measurable actions. A total cut-off of relations would mean that the US could remove Pakistan from its list of major non-Nato allies and label Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, or work with India and Afghanistan to more aggressively counter its interests in the region. Neither Pakistan nor the US is likely to want such a drastic move.

Also, analysts think that the US does not want instability in Pakistan. Since Pakistan is a nuclear power and a home to several militant organizations, the US and its allies are concerned about the instability in Pakistan, fearing in case of volatility, Pakistan nuclear technology could get into wrong hands.

An Islamabad-based analyst who studies Pakistani-Afghani relations, Hasan Khan, said the Trump administration had for the first time adopted a clear approach towards Afghanistan but should not hold Pakistan responsible for the instability there. The US is determined to hold back financial and security to Pakistan alleging Pakistan hasn’t been honest in its dealings, in such situation Pakistan is confident of the support from Beijing, which is investing tens of billions of dollars in the country but a big question will China replace the US and how is Pakistan going to keep its lavish army up-t0-the –minute?


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