(CNSNews.com) – A decision by the Trump administration to withhold $300 million in funding for Pakistan drew a guarded reaction from Islamabad, with the foreign minister saying the money was not “aid” but U.S. reimbursement for costs borne by Pakistan in fighting terror.
"This is not ‘aid’ of any kind that can be suspended,” Pakistani media quoted Shah Mahmood Qureshi as telling reporters. “This is actually the payment of expenses incurred by us during the war against terrorism.”
It is precisely Pakistan’s perceived failure to tackle terrorism effectively that is being cited as the reason for the defunding decision.
U.S. administrations have been wrangling with Pakistani governments over the issue since shortly after the 2001 terror attacks – and President Trump has been a sharp critic for years.
Pakistan’s military intelligence agency had helped to establish the Taliban in the 1990s, and Pakistan was one of just three governments that recognized the fundamentalist regime in Kabul, which sheltered the al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
Western and regional security officials accuse Islamabad of playing a “double game” – combating some terror groups while colluding with others to advance its foreign policy aims, especially in Afghanistan and disputed Kashmir.
Pakistan consistently denies this. Qureshi said the country’s people and army have “sacrificed a lot” in the fight against terrorism, and that measures taken to advance “our joint goals” should remain in place.
He said the issue would be discussed with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who is scheduled to visit Pakistan on Wednesday with chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford.
They are due to meet with leaders including newly-installed Prime Minister Imran Khan, a longstanding critic of U.S. counter-terror policies in the region.
American taxpayers have contributed almost $34 billion to Pakistan in the years since the 9/11 attacks, including $14.5 billion in “Coalition Support Funds,” which reimburse costs of counterterrorism efforts.
Reuters reported at the weekend that $300 million in aid, suspended early this year, was now being “reprogrammed” to other priorities, and quoted a Pentagon spokesman as attributing the move to “a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia strategy.”
Last January, the Pentagon said that in order for the suspended funds to be released, decisive action was needed.
“Our expectations are straightforward,” director of press operations Army Col. Rob Manning said at the time. “Taliban and Haqqani leadership and attack planners should no longer be able to find safe haven or conduct operations from Pakistani soil.”
The $300 million was part of a larger CSF amount, provided by the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act for a two-year period that started in October 2016, and runs through the end of this month.
Defense appropriation legislation incorporated into the omnibus FY 2018 spending bill signed by Trump last March rescinded $500 million of those funds, and the decision to divert the rest to other priorities – conditional on congressional approval – comes before they would expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
Apart from concerns about the Afghan Taliban and its Haqqani network affiliate, the U.S. is also troubled by Pakistan’s handling of other U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
The State Department’s most recent country reports on terrorism labeled Pakistan a “terrorist safe haven,” listing the four terrorist groups among “numerous” that continue to operate from its territory.
Trump held a dim view of Pakistan’s counter-terror efforts long before he became president.
As early as January 2012, the then-real estate magnate tweeted on one occasion.
In late 2015, the then-GOP presidential candidate called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S., after an ISIS-inspired terrorist couple – the U.S.-born son of Pakistani migrants and his Pakistani-born wife – killed 14 people at a social services center in San Bernardino, Calif.
Six months before being elected president, Trump criticized Pakistan in a Fox News appearance, this time reacting to the plight of Dr. Shakil Afridi, the physician imprisoned after helping the U.S. to track down bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.
Trump said that, as president, he would get Islamabad to release Afridi “in two minutes,” suggesting they would comply with the demand because “we give a lot of money to Pakistan.”
(Afridi remains in prison, with no movement reported in his appeal against his conviction.)
Trump’s very first tweet of 2018, posted on the morning of January 1, was directed at Pakistan.
“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 & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” he