Pentagon Has No Plans to Lift Freeze on Funds for Pakistan

Even after the Pentagon chief’s visit to Islamabad, the two sides remain at an impasse.

Pakistani soldiers walk at the premises of an Agriculture Training Institute after an attack by Taliban militants in Peshawar on Dec. 1, 2017. (Abdul Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani soldiers walk at the premises of an Agriculture Training Institute after an attack by Taliban militants in Peshawar on Dec. 1, 2017. (Abdul Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States and Pakistan remain at odds over Islamabad’s track record on countering Islamist militants near the Afghan border, and Washington has no plans to lift a freeze on a key reimbursement fund for the country, U.S. and Pakistani officials said Tuesday.

The Trump administration says Pakistan has not done enough to rein in the Haqqani network, which is blamed for lethal attacks in neighboring Afghanistan against civilians and U.S. and Afghan security forces. The impasse showed no sign of easing after a visit by Defense Secretary James Mattis to Islamabad on Monday.

“We did not talk about the Coalition Support Fund,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Tuesday.

In July, Mattis suspended payments to Pakistan from the Coalition Support Fund, which the United States uses to reimburse countries for counterterrorism operations. The Pentagon said it would not resume payments until the defense secretary could certify that Islamabad had taken sufficient action against the Haqqani network and other militants who cross into Afghanistan from sanctuaries in Pakistan.

The following month, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened even further cuts to assistance to Pakistan over allegations its government harbored Taliban and other militant groups operating in Afghanistan.

In his talks with Pakistan’s political, military, and intelligence leaders, Mattis said Pakistan had a crucial role to play in promoting peace talks for Afghanistan and “reiterated that Pakistan must redouble its efforts to confront militants and terrorists operating within the country,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, a Pentagon spokesman, said payments to Pakistan from the fund are still frozen, and that “Secretary Mattis has not yet made a decision on the certification required” by Congress to release the $400 million in counterterrorism funds for Pakistan in fiscal 2017.

Another $650 million in payments that Pakistan would have received for the prior two fiscal years have already been “reprogrammed and are no longer available to Pakistan,” Andrews said.

The suspension may not be lifted for six months at the earliest, when fighting resumes in the summer months. U.S. officials say they will not be able to assess if Pakistan has made progress and fulfilled its promises to prevent the Haqqani militants from crossing into Afghanistan until then.

The freeze on the reimbursement fund comes amid increasingly sharp rhetoric directed at Pakistan from the Trump administration, which has warned Islamabad it must take action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani fighters who are able to regroup and rearm in safe havens in Pakistan.

In a speech in August presenting his war strategy for Afghanistan, Trump accused Pakistan of hosting “agents of chaos” and said that its approach would have to change “immediately.” His criticism sparked anti-U.S. protests in Islamabad.

The administration’s tough language has fueled speculation that Washington may take unilateral action by ramping up covert drone strikes against militants in Pakistan in areas that have long been off-limits for U.S. air raids. The prospect was reinforced in October, when the United States reportedly delivered an ultimatum to Pakistan that it would launch its own raid to rescue American hostages held by the Taliban if Islamabad failed to act on new intelligence.

For years, U.S. officials and generals have demanded Pakistan take decisive action against the Taliban and the Haqqani fighters, but with little result.

While the United States insists that the funds are tied to Islamabad’s support for counterterrorism operations, Pakistani officials continue to insist that payments should not be linked to specific conditions.

“The Coalition Support Fund is an obligation the United States has, and it is for the United States to fulfill that obligation,” Chaudhry said. “It is reimbursement of the expenses. It’s not an aid package.”

The impasse over the Coalition Support Fund comes amid another regional complication. The Trump administration has publicly embraced Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and hailed India as a partner in the region.

Chaudhry suggested that India’s involvement in Afghanistan is worthy of censure, not praise. “It is the use of Afghan soil to increase instability in Pakistan that hurts us.”

Chaudhry also denied that Pakistan wasn’t doing enough to fight the Haqqani network or other militants.

“You’re looking for safe havens in Pakistan,” he said. “They’re actually in Afghanistan.”

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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