January 9, 2018
This past Thursday the State Department announced the cancellation of hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid for Pakistan. The point of contention is Pakistan’s continued alleged hesitance to cut ties to terrorist organizations such as The Taliban and The Haqqani network. Pakistan has been accused of providing a safe haven and even funding for these groups, who are both currently fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan. While the exact dollar amount to be withheld is yet to be announced, the State Department has made it clear that the money will not be re-appropriated, and will be returned upon renewed commitment to fight terror by the Pakistani government.
The announcement, preceded with a signature furious tweet from the President, had all the trappings of another erratic departure from historic US foreign policy. However, this is instead another advancement in a long history of contention between the two countries. President Reagan’s administration worked with Pakistan to fuel militant Islamist groups to fight Soviet influence in Afghanistan. Only a year after their victory in 1989, the US sanctioned Pakistan to discourage their pursuit of a nuclear arms program. Following 9/11, the United States found renewed interest in a Pakistani alliance and resumed funding. In 2011, the Obama administration suspended $800 million in military aid shortly after finding Osama bin Laden hiding just three hours outside of Islamabad. In 2015, $300 million of Pentagon funding was made conditional on Pakistan acting against the Haqqani network in Afghanistan.
While cutting funding to settle a dispute is classic of the Trump playbook, we may find that the United States does not have much leverage in this case. Pakistan has been a valuable asset for the US military in the war in Afghanistan. The Karachi port is an invaluable supply line and the US also uses Pakistani bases to launch drone strikes. The Pakistani military and intelligence community hold a strong influence over the civilian government, and according to the former Pakistani ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani, “Pakistan’s military has convinced itself that it is acting in Pakistan’s national interest and that pursuing that interest is more important than U.S. aid.” Anti-American sentiment is rampant among the Pakistani populace, and bending to the will of Trump would not be a popular move in a country heading towards a general election in July. Islamabad issued a statement calling for “mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence”, but opposition leader Imran Khan insisted that it was “time for Pakistan to delink from the US.” China, which already provides investment for a $60 billion infrastructure program in Pakistan, is promising to grant further support. The two countries have maintained a long and fruitful relationship, while the Pakistani foreign minister described the United States as the “friend who always betrays”. There’s a good chance this may be the final straw for Pakistan.
- Read the State Department’s Extended Explanation: Here is the State Department’s briefing
- Read More About Pakistan’s Relationship With China: Here is an article by Al Jazeera on The Strategic Importance of Chinese-Pakistani Relations
This brief was compiled by Colin Shanley. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.