More than a week before Imran Khan is sworn in as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Donald Trump has emitted a decidedly disconcerting signal to the new establishment in Islamabad.
The National Defense Authorisation Act 2019, passed by Congress on Thursday, has fixed the security-related assistance to Pakistan at $150 million a year ~ significantly lower than the historic level of more than $1 billion annually.
Arguably, the aid cut mirrors the anxiety of the White House over Pakistan’s failure to rein in terrorists. Furthermore, the involvement of the military in the purported tryst with democracy could well have been another deterrent.
The truncated package can also be contextualised with the IMF’s resolve ~ post election ~ to tighten its purse strings vis-a-vis Pakistan, irrespective of whether it is “new” or in the state of present continuous.
Markedly, the latest defence legislation has removed certain conditions, such as action against the two terrorist outfits ~ the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Action against both was for the past few years integral to the package for the disbursement of US aid to Pakistan.
The Senate has passed the legislation with a convincing margin of 87 votes to ten. With the House of Representatives having passed the Act last week, it will now be advanced to the White House, where President Trump’s assent is, in this case, only a formality.
Critically enough, the US has dropped its authority to reimburse Pakistan for counter-terrorism. In the net, the Pentagon may have given up its handle to exert pressure on Pakistan to undertake counter-terrorism activities or action against the Haqqani Network.
Rightly have advisers on Mr Obama’s National Security Council team concluded that this year’s defence legislation significantly reduces the amount of security assistance that Pakistan can theoretically receive beyond the traditional Foreign Military Financing.
With the legislation, Pakistan ceases to be eligible for the US government’s Coalition Support Funds (CSF), but the country has been added to the list of nations that can receive a related form of assistance designed to help bolster border security.
Though the new border security funds will be capped at $ 150 million a year, the legislation has done away with the reporting requirements and certifications that have, in practice, made it difficult for Pakistan to receive such funds.
In the immediate perspective, the Trump administration has effectively frozen security assistance to Pakistan, and this new legislation will do nothing in the short-term to change that.
The striking feature of Thursday’s legislation must be that the new funding authority does not permit counter-terrorism assistance, but only assistance related to border security. In the crucial segment of fiscal support from the US, Imran Khan will for a year be on a sticky wicket.