In the lead-up to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s official visit to Pakistan, the US government opted to program – i.e. cancel — $300 million US in coalition support funding (CSF) to Islamabad. Thus far, the US has cancelled $800 m in CSF funding from Pakistan. Pentagon spokesperson, Lt. Col. Kone Faulkner, said that the cut came “due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy.”
The ‘South Asia Strategy’ centers on holding “Pakistan accountable for its failure to deny sanctuary to militant proxies” operating in Afghanistan. Evidently, Washington does not feel that Pakistan has lived up to the expectations laid-out in the South Asia Strategy, but Pakistan maintains that its counterterrorism (CT) and counterinsurgency (COIN) activities were valid (and supportive of the US). Moreover, Islamabad asserts that the cut CSF funding was supposed to reimburse Pakistan for its aforementioned efforts.
Be it the cut in CSF funding and, as a consequence, Pakistan’s suspension from the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program and the stay on arms deliveries funded through Foreign Military Financing (FMF), the prelude to the US’ chilling effect on Pakistan emanates from President Trump’s tweet in January 2018, in which he accused Pakistan of opposing US interests. In turn, the White House – while initially leaving the door open to providing military aid to Pakistan (conditional on Pakistan’s actions) – it has entirely moved to cutting military funding and training support.
Currently, it does not appear that Pakistani purchases from the US or bilateral economic activity (such as trade) will be affected, but that can change. Indeed, significant shifts in US-Pakistani bilateral defence ties appear to be in motion, though to what specific outcome (aside from shutting Pakistan out from military assistance packages) is unclear. Part of that lack of clarity comes from Pakistan itself, which – despite the US’ carrying a narrative of Pakistan being duplicitous – kept acting as though the US was being supportive.
The tone-deaf response of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), which – in response to Trump’s initial tweet – said the US and Pakistan were “allies.” However, the current Pakistani government – now led by PTI – had promised to recalibrate Pakistan-US relations, with Khan stating: “…our government will engage the US to make this relationship more balanced and trustworthy.” However, is this a substantive shift?
The Khan government’s ties with the US had begun awkwardly. Following a call by Pompeo to Khan, the US State Department outlined that the call reiterated “the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan,” which the Pakistani foreign ministry disputed, stating that “no such mention” was made in the conversation. However, Pakistani news reports claim that Islamabad will “bury” the issue when Pompeo visits Pakistan. Nonetheless, the PTI government at least made its intent to control the narrative – albeit with a disputed set of facts – vis-à-vis Washington.
Clearly, the PTI government is showing a measure of unease with the US, especially on the issue of the US using official engagements to deliver the “do more” message. However, besides calling for more balance in Pakistan’s ties with the US, the current government has not offered specific expectations or outcomes regarding the US. Indeed, it requires time to properly construct a revised foreign policy, especially one as large as recalibrating Pakistan’s defence ties with the US; these ties have largely defined Pakistan’s issues – including its large-scale CT/COIN operations in the late 2000s and early 2010s – since 2001.
Thus, it is concerning that the US Secretary of State is opting to visit so soon – i.e. within weeks of the PTI being sworn-in and, in turn, having no time to engage with other institutions (much less Pakistan’s policy intelligentsia) to construct a concrete, recalibrated foreign policy. In effect, Washington is precluding the Pakistani process, or – if one is optimistic – offering its terms ahead of that recalibration. If taken cynically, it would appear as though Washington was trying to shape Islamabad’s decisions…
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