ISLAMABAD: The US Congress has slashed security funding to Pakistan by almost two-thirds under an amended defense budget following criticism of its coalition partner’s failure to tackle terror groups thriving in its porous border region with Afghanistan.
In a $717 billion budget for the coming year, Congress cut funding allocated to Pakistan to fight terrorism from $900 million to $350 million, with some analysts suggesting the figure may be even lower.
Former Professional Staff Member of the US Senate Committee on Armed Services Anish Goel said: “The legislation reduces the amount of funds provided for reimbursement to Pakistan to $150 million. This is a significant reduction from the $700 million authorized through the Coalition Support Fund last year.”
A US Embassy spokesman in Islamabad told Arab News: “The $150 million in defense funding is dedicated to Pakistan’s border security operations and is a clear sign of our commitment to improved security for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. We hope that Pakistan takes the necessary steps to enable the disbursement of this assistance.”
If Pakistan demonstrates its ability to secure the Pakistan-Afghan “borders against the threats posed by transnational terrorism,” it will be eligible for US assistance, the spokesman said.
Under a program to reimburse coalition nations for support provided to US military operations, Pakistan’s fund allocation in 2018 was reduced to $700 million, with half the figure pegged to its action against the deadly Haqqani Network supported by the Afghan Taliban.
In May, the US Committee on Armed Services House of Representatives raised concerns about Pakistan’s commitment to tackle militant groups its border region with Afghanistan and called for drastic cuts to financial relief provided to Islamabad.
The dramatic cut in funding is also part of Washington’s South Asia and Afghan policy unveiled last August. Relations between Pakistan and the US have remained frosty since the policy launch.
Reiterating his earlier comments this week, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Dr. Mohammed Faisal told Arab News that the funds should not viewed as aid but “reimbursements to be made to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund” for its logistical and operational support, which a disappointed US has “discontinued.”
“Our position is very clear that mutual problems can only be addressed through mutual consultations and deeper engagement,” said Faisal.
The Congress defense budget made clear that Pakistan’s funding of $350 million would remain in place until the secretary of defense was satisfied that Pakistan is taking “demonstrable steps against the Haqqani Network.”
Goel told an Indian newspaper that the budget amendment “gets rid of the certification requirements for Pakistani action against the Haqqani Network, and also gets rid of the authority to reimburse Pakistan for counterterrorism.”
The US Embassy spokesman said: “The US administration’s position is unchanged. We continue to press Pakistan to target all terrorist groups without discrimination, including the Taliban, Haqqani network and Lashkar e-Tayyaba, and stand ready to work with Pakistan to combat terrorist groups without distinction.”
The US has increased its efforts to negotiate a permanent truce with the Taliban in hope of ending the Afghan war following a short-lived but successful cease-fire agreement between the Afghan government and Taliban in June and recent talks between US diplomats and representatives of the insurgency.
Washington believes Pakistan has considerable influence over the Taliban, which the Foreign Office has denied. Experts say the latest move to reduce funding is one of several tactics the US has applied to coerce Islamabad to conform to the Trump administration’s regional policies.
“This is all to put pressure on Pakistan,” Khaled Mohammed, director-general of Command Eleven, a national security think tank that advises Pakistan’s military.
“They are trying to get Pakistan to back the US move to make the Taliban lay down their weapons and become a regular part of the (Afghan) government. The Taliban will not do that.”
Khaled Mohammed said Islamabad will not bargain on America’s behalf because of a “trust deficit” dating back to the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.
However, “Pakistan is on the back foot. It could be backlisted by the FATF (Financial Action Task Force over non-compliance to submit a progress report). It could be blacklisted or placed under sanctions by the US. Eventually, Pakistan would find itself in a worse economic position, he said.