Washington – The United States announced Thursday it was suspending security assistance to Pakistan for failing to take “decisive action” against Taliban militants targeting U.S. personnel in neighboring Afghanistan.
The State Department’s declaration signaled growing frustration over Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting terrorist networks, but it was not immediately clear how much money and material was being withheld. The vague details suggested the primary goal was to substantiate President Donald Trump’s surprising New Year’s Day tweet that accused Pakistan of playing U.S. leaders for “fools.”
Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the restrictions covered security assistance above and beyond the $255 million for Pakistani purchases of American military equipment that the administration held up in August.
Nauert said details were still being worked out on the additional funds, and referred questions to the Defense Department. Earlier Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the policy on military aid was “still being formulated.”
Nauert made clear the $255 million was still blocked. The new action targets payments of so-called Coalition Support Funds that the U.S. pays to Pakistan to reimburse it for its counterterrorism operations. Those funds are typically paid later in the year, and already require U.S. certification, so the effect of Thursday’s announcement was unclear.
On Monday, Trump said the U.S. had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid in the last 15 years and had gotten nothing in return but “lies & deceit.” He reiterated longstanding allegations that Pakistan gives “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”
Trump unveiled in August a South Asia strategy aimed at ending the stalemate in the U.S. war in Afghanistan, now entering its 17th year. Nauert said that despite sustained high-level engagement with Pakistan’s government, “the Taliban and Haqqani network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilize Afghanistan and attack U.S. and allied personnel.” She told reporters that until Pakistan takes “decisive action” against those groups, security assistance was suspended.
Civilian development and economic aid to Pakistan is not affected.
Also Thursday, the State Department accused Pakistan of severe violations of religious freedom. It announced that it was placing Pakistan on a special watch list. The step does not carry any serious consequences.
Pakistan’s embassy in Washington and mission at the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But on Tuesday, Pakistan called Trump’s tweet “completely incomprehensible” and at odds with recent “trust-building” visits by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Mattis.
The haphazard nature of Thursday’s announcement suggested it had been hastily arranged rather than developed through a traditional policy process. Even after members of Congress had been notified of an impending aid suspension, White House and State Department officials were still hammering out details for who would announce it and when.
U.S. assistance to Pakistan, which rose sharply after the 9/11 attacks, has been declining since 2011 when American commandos killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, straining relations. Pakistan has increasingly turned for economic support to northern neighbor China.
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