KARACHI/WASHINGTON: The United States (US) Congress on Thursday approved a $716.3 billion Defence Authorisation Bill (DAB), wherein it made a significant cut to the security-oriented financial aid to Pakistan.
The National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) for 2019 ramped up the military spending and avoided policy changes that would have antagonised US President Donald Trump.
In the latest NDAA, the security aid to Islamabad — that had once started from almost $750 million per year to $1 billion — was marked down to a mere $150 million.
However, it also relaxed certain conditions that were attached with the financial assistance, including action against the Haqqani Network and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
This crucial reduction translates into the fact that the Pentagon might not have any tools to pressurise Pakistan into taking action against the banned militant outfits.
The US had earlier used these funds to ask Islamabad to do more with regard to the counterterrorism operations, especially against the Haqqani Network.
Lately, the Trump administration, which has become quite active in trying to make the Afghan peace talks work, has been pushing Pakistan to help bring the Taliban to the negotiating table in order to reach a deal with Kabul’s government.
The NDAA 2019, which was earlier given the green signal by the US House of Representatives, was passed 87 to 10 in the Senate.
The Bill has now been sent to the White House for Trump to sign.
The bill provides $69 billion in war funding known as overseas contingency operations, authorises a 2.6 per cent pay raise for members of the armed forces, and invests tens of billions in modernising the Pentagon’s air and sea fleets and missile defences.
On Monday, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned that any potential International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout for Pakistan’s new government should not provide funds to pay off Chinese lenders, however, Pakistan had dismissed US concerns.
Earlier on August 2, the US had declared a senior Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander, Abdul Rehman al-Dakhil, as a ‘global terrorist’ and sanctioned two others as fund collectors for the banned group.
Moreover, the fund-raisers had been identified as Hameed-ul-Hassan and Abdul Jabbar, who allegedly worked for Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), which the US regards as a front for the LeT.
The accused were all reportedly Pakistani nationals.
“Treasury’s designations not only aim to expose and shut down Lashkar-e-Taiba’s financial network but also to curtail its ability to raise funds to carry out violent terrorist attacks,” said Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Treasury Undersecretary Sigal Mandelker.
Earlier, the US had expressed “deep reservations” over the participation of terrorist-affiliated individuals in the July 25 elections in Pakistan. The State Department, however, also felicitated Pakistani voters for rejecting extremist candidates.
He was captured in Iraq in 2004 by British forces and spent 10 years in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan before being transferred to Pakistan in 2014, the State Department also said.
Earlier on April 3, the US had placed Milli Muslim League (MML) and Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir (TAJK) on its list of foreign terrorist organisations, linking it with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that the US and India blame for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The US had added the Milli Muslim League and Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir (TAJK) as aliases of Lashkar-e-Taiba, and specifically named seven MML leaders as “terrorists”, said the statement.
Controlled by LeT founder and Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) head Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million US bounty on his head, the MML rose to prominence after fielding a candidate in a September 2017 by-election to fill a seat vacated by deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The party had bagged more votes than expected, around 5 per cent of the total cast votes.
The LeT is accused of Mumbai attacks as well in which at least 166 people had lost their lives. However, Saeed has repeatedly denied involvement in the attacks.
“These designations seek to deny LeT the resources it needs to plan and carry out further terrorist attacks,” the US State Department had said in a statement.
“Make no mistake: whatever LeT chooses to call itself, it remains a violent terrorist group. The United States supports all efforts to ensure that LeT does not have a political voice until it gives up violence as a tool of influence,” the statement had added.
In October 2017, Pakistan’s electoral commission had barred the Milli Muslim League from contesting elections, saying the party had links with militant groups and could not be registered with the commission. In March 2018 the Islamabad High Court ordered the election commission to register the party.
Under pressure from the United States, the United Nations and international institutions to crack down on terrorist financing, Pakistan drew up secret plans last December for a “takeover” of charities linked to Saeed. Saeed has since taken the government decision to court.
Saeed had been placed under house arrest in January 2017 after years of living freely in Pakistan but a court ordered his release in November 2017.
Saeed’s freedom in Pakistan, where he holds public rallies, has been a thorn in Islamabad’s relations with India and the United States.
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