Reacting to the United States’ decision to cut aid to Pakistan, the foreign ministry said Pakistan had fought the war against terrorism largely from its own resources “which has cost over $120 billion in 15 years.”
In a carefully-worded response, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal said Pakistan was engaged with the US on the issue of security cooperation and await further details. “[The] impact of US’ decision on pursuit of common objectives is also likely to emerge more clearly in due course of time. It, however, needs to be appreciated that Pakistan has fought the war against terrorism largely from its own resources. We are determined to continue to do all it takes to secure the lives of our citizens and broader stability in the region,” he said in a statement.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said for now the US was suspending “security assistance only” to Pakistan. She maintained that Pakistan would be able to receive the suspended funding if it took “decisive actions” against the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistan says the money it had received from the US was mainly reimbursements for supporting US-led coalition forces after they invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
Dr Faisal said Pakistan-US cooperation in fighting terrorism had directly served the USnational security interests as well as the larger interests of the international community. “It has helped decimate Al-Qaeda and fight other groups who took advantage of ungoverned spaces, a long porous border and posed a common threat to peace. Through a series of major counter-terrorism operations Pakistan cleared all these areas resulting in elimination of organised terrorist presence leading to significant improvement in security in Pakistan,” he said.
Faisal added: “Our efforts towards peace are awaiting reciprocal actions from the Afghan side in terms of clearance of vast stretches of ungoverned spaces on the Afghan side, bilateral border management, repatriation of Afghan refugees, controlling poppy cultivation, drug trafficking and initiating Afghan-led and owned political reconciliation in Afghanistan.”
He said working towards enduring peace required mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence. “Emergence of new and more deadly groups such as Daesh in Afghanistan, call for enhancing international cooperation. Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats,” Faisal contended.
The US announcement ignited some small protests in Pakistan on Friday, including in Chaman, one of the two main crossings on the border with Afghanistan where several hundred people gathered to chant anti-US slogans.
Privately, US diplomats insist the relationship is not in crisis. They say Pakistan is not refusing to fight the Haqqani network, but that the two capitals disagree about the facts on the ground.
Pakistan insists safe havens have been eradicated, but US intelligence says it is still seeing militants operating freely.
Nauert was at pains to point out that the frozen funds had not been cancelled, and would be ready to be disbursed if Pakistan takes action to prove its commitment to the fight. “The United States stands ready to work with Pakistan in combating all terrorists, without distinction,” Nauert said.
According to Reuters, 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 to fund critical US national security priorities.
CSF funds , which fall under Defence Department authority, are covered by the freeze, said Pentagon spokesman Commander Patrick Evans, saying Congress authorised up to $900 million in such money for Pakistan for fiscal year 2017, which ended September 30. None of that money has yet been disbursed.
The freeze also covers $255 million in FMF for fiscal year 2016, which falls under State Department authority and whose suspension has already been announced, as well as unspecified amounts of FMF that went unspent in earlier fiscal years.
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.
South Asia expert Christine Fair of Georgetown University voiced concern that Pakistan might retaliate for the suspension by closing the highways from Karachi on which equipment is trucked to land-locked Afghanistan and the airspace through which supplies are flown to US-led international forces there.
“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?” she asked, referring to the Afghan national security forces.
“Pakistan could be within their rights if they tell us you don’t have flyover rights anymore,” she said.
Pakistani security analyst Hasan Askari said “They want to apply graduated pressure to Pakistan to change its policy, rather than abandon it altogether.”
Some analysts have said there is no real way to pressure Pakistan, which believes keeping Kabul out of nemesis India’s orbit is more important than clamping down on cross-border militancy.
Askari warned the suspension of millions of dollars in security assistance might see the US lose crucial influence over Pakistan which will instead look to other countries for support.
Observers say until Washington addresses Pakistan’s fears over India, it will not shake its support for militant proxies. “There’s no amount of bribery or threat that can ultimately make people act against what they consider to be their core interests,” tweeted journalist Murtaza Mohammad Hussain.
“The suspension is arguably more significant as a signal of Washington’s discontent than as an act of financial deprivation,” said Joshua T White, an Asia analyst who was director of South Asian affairs at the National Security Council during the Obama years.
“The Trump administration has likely sketched out an escalation strategy, and would be wise to pause after Thursday’s announcement to give Pakistan the opportunity to quietly address US concerns.”