Developments in Pakistan-US ties

Spearhead Analysis – 20.08.2018

By Hira A. Shafi
Senior Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

The Pakistan-US ties have remained in flux since the onset of the Trump administration- every plunge has been coupled with bilateral efforts to assuage the strains. The year 2018, kicked off with President Trump’s tweet regarding security assistance to Pakistan- the reevaluation of this domain has remained integral to the Trump rhetoric.

Reportedly, The United States introduced cuts in reimbursements to Pakistan in 2015, when it withheld $300m from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), Pakistan receives these reimbursements for its counter terrorism efforts. In 2016, the withheld amount increased to $350m, in 2017 to $400m. Last year, the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA-2018) made $350m of $700m available to Pakistan under the CSF reimbursements- which was to be released after certification from the Secretary of Defence, on basis that Pakistan takes concrete steps against the so called Haqqani Network and LeT. The withheld amount stays in an escrow fund for two years but it is usually re-appropriated for other purposes before it lapses.

Recently, the Congress passed the 717 billion USD NDAA-2019- the provisions regarding Pakistan are as follow:

“(e) Limitation On Reimbursement Of Pakistan Pending Certification.—No amount of reimbursement support under subsection (a)(1)(F) is authorized to be disbursed to the Government of Pakistan unless the Secretary of Defense certifies to the congressional defense committees that the following conditions are met:

“(1) The military and security operations of Pakistan pertaining to border security and ancillary activities for which reimbursement is sought have been coordinated with United States military representatives in advance of the execution of such operations and activities.

“(2) The goals and desired outcomes of each such operation or activity have been established and agreed upon in advance by the United States and Pakistan.

“(3) A process exists to verify the achievement of the goals and desired outcomes established in accordance with paragraph (2).

“(4) The Government of Pakistan is making an effort to actively coordinate with the Government of Afghanistan on issues relating to border security on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.”.

EXTENSION AND MODIFICATION OF AUTHORITY FOR REIMBURSEMENT OF CERTAIN COALITION NATIONS FOR SUPPORT PROVIDED TO UNITED STATES MILITARY OPERATIONS.

(ii) by striking “$900,000,000” and inserting “$350,000,000. 

Reportedly, The NDAA 2019 had reduced total global Coalition Support Fund (CSF) authorization to $350 million from which Pakistan may receive up to $150 million as reimbursement for border-security operations, not CSF. A positive noteworthy feature of the new bill is that the explicit use of terms ‘LeT and Haqqani Network’- have been delinked from the expected outcomes required for authorization- as a result of Pentagon’s call last year.

Alongside this, another important development took place- which has perhaps created greater distraught. The US administration has suspended the quota for Pakistani officers in the upcoming year under the International Military Education & Training (IMET)- The places will either be unfilled or given to officers from other countries.

According to some reports, certain voices in the US are concerned about the outcome of this decision- as it undermines a major trust building measure, it deepens the rift between Pakistan-US while pushing Pakistan closer to China and Russia and may keep US in the dark about the upcoming Pakistani military leadership.  Some senior voices in the US security establishment are of the view that military educational and training programs should remain shielded from political tensions.

Last month, another concerning sentiment was generated when Mike Pompeo expressed his views regarding IMF funding to Pakistan for alleged repayments of Chinese loans. Several voices in the US also raised doubts regarding the actual utility of such a statement. It is believed that Pakistan does not need US backing to seek an IMF loan but ‘US pressure could lead to stricter program conditionality, including the curtailment of CPEC projects and greater transparency in CPEC financing- even so, a greater transparency on CPEC projects is said to be already on the agenda of the upcoming Pakistani government.

Following these developments- on the 14th of August- Mike Pompeo issued a statement suggesting closer cooperation between US and Pakistan in order to advance the shared goals of security, stability and prosperity in South Asia. Reportedly, Ambassador Ali Siddiqui also recently said at a news briefing that the suspended IMET facility for Pakistan was useful for both countries and both wanted it restored.

The US seems to be gauging various options with Pakistan.  A common perception sees the sterner US gestures in the larger context of its China concerns- but several voices are of the view that as a result- Pakistan may find itself drawn closer to its regional allies and the US may be self-excluding itself. The perspectives in US government over how to deal with Pakistan also appear divided- some prominent voices from the diplomatic and security domains believe in salvaging Pakistan-US ties. Whereas, some are of the view that an enhanced pressure- either in form of sterner IMF conditions or disrupting bilateral military ties-  is the way forward with Pakistan.

Mark Sobel- a senior adviser with the Simon Chair in Political Economy at the CSIS states that

“The IMF fund must also ensure that its resources are not used to bail out unsustainable Chinese CPEC lending. The fund needs to have at its fingertips comprehensive data on all CPEC lending—its terms, maturities, and parties involved. “

Christine Fair in a recent CFR interview on Pakistan– stated that “cutting IMF loans , because Pakistan Security establishment needs it to lubricate the civil- military friction. The US needs to give Pakistan an essence of a credible threat”. The interviewer pointed out how this would play out in the Afghan arena if US loses Pakistani assistance or develops deeper ties with China? To which- Fair responded by suggesting decreased dependency on Pakistan in the Afghan Arena and rethinking the CSF provisions.

A complete rupture in the Pakistan-US ties seems unlikely, because it appears that certain voices in the US work on damage control in the wake of every nosedive- giving the ties a semblance of bipolar fluctuations. It is expected that despite the IMET and CSF changes- military interactions at the top levels would continue, nonetheless these changes do carry considerable potential to taint Pakistan-US security relations. Pakistan also needs to think how all this rhetoric adds to its global image, its own interests and engage with US accordingly.

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