A day before an expected meeting with the new Pakistani government, the Pentagon on Monday dispelled the impression that the United States had cancelled its assistance to Pakistan.
In a statement, Pentagon spokesperson Lt Col Koné Faulkner explained that the suspension of security assistance to Pakistan was announced in January 2018 and on Saturday the Pentagon asked Congress to ‘reprogramme’ a suspended amount of about $300 million that Pakistan was to receive from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF).
“CSF is included in the suspension and it remains in place. This is not a new decision or a new announcement, but acknowledgement of a July request to reprogramme funds before they expire,” he said. Pentagon says on Saturday it asked Congress to ‘reprogramme’ the suspended amount that Pakistan was to receive from Coalition Support Fund.
The explanation sends a message to the new Pakistani government that Washington wants to give Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team “some space” to familiarize themselves with the issues they would be dealing with. Any new decision affecting US-Pakistan relations will only be made after Washington has had enough interaction with the Pakistani leadership to understand how it operates.
Yet, the Pentagon official minced no words in stressing how Washington wants to rebuild its relationship with Islamabad.
“Since January, we have consistently engaged with Pakistani military officials at the highest levels, based on both a shared commitment to defeat all terrorist groups that threaten regional stability and security, as well as on a shared vision of a peaceful future for Afghanistan,” Col Faulkner said.
“We continue to press Pakistan to indiscriminately target all terrorist groups, including the Haqqani network and we continue to call on Pakistan to arrest, expel or bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table.”
The Pentagon official also said that the US definition of terrorist groups includes Lashkar-e-Taiba, which focuses on India, not Afghanistan.
Col Faulkner pointed out that Washington announced its decision to suspend US security assistance to Pakistan in January and in July the remaining $300m was reprogrammed “due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the (Trump administration’s) South Asia Strategy”.
The funds would expire on Sept 30, if not reprogrammed.
The emphasis on forcing the Taliban to join the Afghan peace process confirms the general perception in Washington that President Donald Trump wants some stability in Afghanistan before November, when Americans elect a new Congress. Political observers in Washington say Mr Trump believes this could have a positive impact on the elections.
The 17-year-old Afghan war is also America’s longest and the Trump administration wants to end this in a manner that allows Mr Trump to claim he brought peace to Afghanistan.
“Seventeen years is long enough to be involved in a war. We need this to end. We want this to end,” said a senior Pentagon official while explaining why the Trump administration wants to end the war now.