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US suspends security aid to Pakistan over militant groups

A glance at US budget figures suggest the amounts frozen could exceed $1 billion.

Pakistani security officials inspect the scene of a bomb attack in Lahore on 5 April 2017. At least five people were killed and up to 18 wounded in a suicide blast claimed by the Taliban which targeted a census team in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore. Picture: AFP

WASHINGTON - The United States said on Thursday it was suspending an undisclosed amount of security assistance to Pakistan, which two officials said was worth more than $255 million, until Islamabad takes action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.

The US State Department announced the decision, saying it reflected the Trump administration’s frustration that Pakistan has not done more against the two groups, which have long used sanctuaries in Pakistan to launch attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan that have killed US, Afghan and other forces.

The department declined to say exactly how much aid would be suspended, saying the numbers were still being calculated and included funding from both the State and Defense departments.

US officials said two main categories of aid are affected: foreign military financing (FMF), which funds purchases of US military hardware, training and services, and coalition support funds (CSF), which reimburse Pakistan for counter-terrorism operations. They said they could make exceptions for money that went to critical US national security priorities.

A glance at US budget figures suggest the amounts frozen could exceed $1 billion.

The United States gives Pakistan $255 million a year in FMF, which falls under the State Department’s authority. For fiscal year 2017, which ended on 30 September, 2017, it has authorized up to $900 million in CSF, which falls under Pentagon authority.

Briefing reporters, US officials stressed the suspension did not affect civilian aid to Pakistan and that the money could go through if Islamabad took decisive action against the groups.

“Our hope is that they will see this as a further indication of this administration’s immense frustration with the trajectory of our relationship and that they need to be serious about taking the steps we have asked in order to put it on more solid footing,” a senior State Department official told reporters.

“We’re hoping that Pakistan will see this as an incentive, not a punishment,” he added.

Two other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the amount suspended would total more than $255 million. Earlier this year Washington suspended $255 million in FMF.

“It’s north of $255 million,” said one US official.

The Trump administration briefed Congress on its decision on Wednesday.

Pakistan is largely shrugging off proposed US aid cuts but frets that Washington could take more drastic measures to deter what it sees as the South Asian nation’s support for Taliban militants in neighboring Afghanistan.

Tense ties between the uneasy allies nosedived on 1 January when US President Donald Trump lashed out on Twitter against Islamabad’s “lies and deceit” despite $33 billion in aid and the White House warned of “specific actions” to pressure Pakistan.

Trump’s frustrations are shared by US lawmakers, who accused Pakistan of playing a double game by allowing militant groups sanctuary - which Islamabad denies - despite promising to crack down on them.

“Pakistan is one of the most duplicitous governments I’ve had any involvement with,” Senator Bob Corker, Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters. “Their, in essence, support of the Haqqani network, or ... allowing them to have safe harbor in their country when they’re the greatest threat to our men and women in uniform.”

South Asia expert Christine Fair of Georgetown University voiced concern that Pakistan might retaliate for the suspension by closing the highways from the port city of Karachi on which equipment is trucked to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the airspace through which supplies are flown to US-led international forces in landlocked Afghanistan.

“What is the plan if they close the GLOCs?” she asked, using the military acronym for Ground Lines of Communications. “What if the Pakistanis shut down the ALOCs (Air Lines of Communications). How do you keep supplying the ANSF?”

“Pakistan could be within their rights if they tell us you don’t have flyover rights anymore,” she added.

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