Pakistan on Friday rejected the latest US move to suspend around $1 billion in security assistance until Islamabad acts against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, insisting ‘arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts’ are counterproductive to address the common threat of terrorism.
However, despite denouncing the Trump administration for its punitive measures, the Foreign Office statement still left the room open for sorting out differences with Washington through diplomacy.
Far from the hardline stance taken by the US since President Trump’s New Year tweet slamming Pakistan for ‘lies and deceit,’ Islamabad emphasised the need for close cooperation with Washington not only to deal with the existing terrorist groups but also emergence of Da’ish in the region.
“We are engaged with the US administration on the issue of security cooperation and await further details,” read the Foreign Office statement.
“[The] impact of US’ decision in pursuit of common objectives is also likely to emerge more clearly in due course,” it added, suggesting that Pakistan may have been contemplating or already taken certain actions the results of which would be visible in due course of time.
This also indicated that despite apparent strains, the two countries probably must have been discussing the thorny issues through backchannels.
Although, the Foreign Office would not shed light on the impact of US aid cut on Pakistan’s anti-terror campaign, it insisted that Pakistan had fought the war against terrorism largely from its own resources which had cost over $120 billion in 15 years.
“We are determined to continue to do all it takes to secure the lives of our citizens and broader stability in the region,” the statement further said, indicating that Pakistan was still resisting against any knee-jerk reaction.
Contrary to the popular demand, especially from leaders like Imran Khan, who is seeking drastic steps to significantly downgrade ties with the US, the official line is different and emphasises the importance of close Pak-US cooperation.
However, Pakistan said working towards enduring peace requires mutual respect and trust along with patience and persistence. “Emergence of new and more deadly groups such as Da’ish in Afghanistan call for enhancing international cooperation,” it said.
“Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats.”
“We believe that Pakistan-US cooperation in fighting terrorism has directly served US national security interests as well as the larger interests of international community,” the Foreign Office said.
“It has helped decimate al Qaeda and fight other groups who took advantage of ungoverned spaces, a long porous border and posed a common threat to peace,” it added.
Through a series of major counterterrorism operations, Pakistan cleared all these areas resulting in elimination of organised terrorist presence leading to significant improvement in security in Pakistan.
Islamabad then listed its own grievances and frustration over the lack of similar action on the other side of the border in Afghanistan.
“Our efforts towards peace are awaiting reciprocal actions from the Afghan side in terms of clearance of vast stretches of ungoverned spaces on the Afghan side, bilateral border management, repatriation of Afghan Refugees, controlling poppy cultivation, drug trafficking and initiating Afghan-led and owned political reconciliation in Afghanistan,” the statement read.
Separately, the chief military spokesperson warned that suspension of US assistance would impact bilateral security cooperation and regional peace efforts.
In an interview with the Voice of America (VoA), DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor, however, made it clear that Pakistan would not get deterred from its resolve to fight terrorism.
“Pakistan never fought for money but for peace,” Ghafoor told the VoA.
On Thursday, the US State Department announced it was suspending at least $900 million in security assistance to Pakistan until it takes action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network militant groups.
The decision, the State Department said, reflected the Trump administration’s frustration that Pakistan has not done more against the two groups.
The department declined to say exactly how much aid would be suspended, saying the numbers were still being calculated and included funding from both the State and Defence departments.
US officials said two main categories of aid are affected: foreign military financing (FMF), which funds purchases of US military hardware, training and services, and coalition support funds (CSF), which reimburse Pakistan for counter-terrorism operations. They said they could make exceptions to fund critical US national security priorities.
CSF funds, which fall under Defence Department authority, are covered by the freeze, said Pentagon spokesman Commander Patrick Evans, saying Congress authorised up to $900 million in such money for Pakistan for fiscal year 2017, which ended September 30. None of that money has yet been disbursed.
The freeze also covers $255 million in FMF for fiscal year 2016, which falls under State Department authority and whose suspension has already been announced, as well as unspecified amounts of FMF that went unspent in earlier fiscal years.
Briefing reporters, US officials stressed the suspension did not affect civilian aid to Pakistan and that the money could go through if Islamabad took decisive action against the groups.
“Our hope is that they will see this as a further indication of this administration’s immense frustration with the trajectory of our relationship and that they need to be serious about taking the steps we have asked in order to put it on [the] more solid footing,” a senior State Department official told reporters, according to the Reuters.
“We’re hoping that Pakistan will see this as an incentive, not a punishment,” he added.
Meanwhile, Pakistan also rejected the US designation of Pakistan in the “Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom”.
“The report is not based on objective criteria. This placement on special watch list is a new categorization and we would be seeking clarification from the US regarding its rationale and implications,” foreign office said in a separate statement.
It said the designation overlooked the significant achievements of Pakistan in the area of human rights.
Pakistan is firmly committed to the promotion and protection of human rights including the right of religious freedom, under its Constitution, it argued.
Wide ranging legislative, institutional and administrative measures have been taken by the Government of Pakistan to ensure full implementation of guarantees afforded by the Constitution.
“The international community is aware of the incremental steps being taken by Pakistan that have brought about positive changes on ground.”
“It is surprising that countries that have a well-known record of systematic persecution of religious minorities have not been included in the list. This reflects the double standards and political motives behind the listing and hence lacks credibility.”
The Foreign Office said Pakistan would continue to work with the international community to ensure that internationally agreed standards on religious freedom are observed in Pakistan and the broader region.