WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defence (DoD) put pressure on key Congressional committees to drop a provision linking financial aid to Pakistan with Islamabad taking demonstrable action against Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The bill was approved by the Congress on Tuesday.
The DoD prevailed upon key Democratic and Republican aides in the House Armed Services to remove the conditionality introduced by the Senate. The provision was part of the bill meant to finance the US armed forces for 2018 known as the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), reported The Wire.
The provision was dropped last week when the Senate and the House versions of the NDAA were being reconciled before being voted into law. Congressional aides said that the DoD strongly insisted that curbing the Haqqani network must remain the top priority and adding LeT was like “shifting the goal post for Pakistan”.
“But I thought that was the idea of the new South Asia policy,” one Democratic Party observer said somewhat sarcastically, referring to President Donald Trump’s August speech nailing Pakistan and terrorist groups thriving on its soil. “One of the president’s pillars was being harder on Pakistan. It makes sense to be harder on Pakistan.”
The Indian government is likely disappointed by the development although officials stressed that the overall “trend line”on Pakistan remained promising. The amount of US aid is shrinking while the portion coming under strict conditions is increasing.
Pakistan has lost about $750 million in Coalition Support Funds over the last two years because of its failure to act against terrorist groups. The secretary of defence has not “certified” that Pakistan is taking adequate steps to curb terrorism in a clear indication of the current thinking in Washington.
Half of the $700 million in the military and economic aid for Pakistan for 2018 is also tied to conditions related to counterterrorism measures against the Haqqani network. Although the bill no longer includes the LeT as a targeted group, the conference report does mention the LeT and says the US Congress remains concerned about its freedom of navigation inside Pakistan.
The Senate version of the bill said that Pakistan must demonstrate it has taken steps to “prevent the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba from using any Pakistan territory as a safe haven and for fundraising and recruiting efforts.” Further, it must coordinate with Afghanistan to prevent movement of terrorists from both groups along the border.
In a clear pointer at LeT leader Hafiz Saeed, the bill said Pakistan must also show “progress in arresting and prosecuting senior leaders and mid-level operatives of the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba.” The LeT’s name appeared several times in the Senate bill.
But for the Pentagon, it was a bridge too far and senior officials persuaded staff aides to summarily drop references to LeT. A knowledgeable source said some aides were almost “scared” and chose not to argue with the top brass.
The Pentagon wants a step-by-step approach, gradually increasing the pressure on Pakistan. They first want results on the Haqqani Network. “This administration has a clear sense of the timetable. It will not be easily lulled,” an Indian observer said.
The conference report on the bill also talks about India and the US working together to stabilise Afghanistan. The bill is expected to become law soon.
Diplomatic sources, however, believe that Pentagon’s decision to delink LeT from the list showed Washington’s desire to keep Pakistan close. Policymakers in Washington agree that Pakistan provides the shortest land route for supplying US forces to Afghanistan.