Not resuming any time soon
The question of Washington restoring its economic assistance to Pakistan is a complicated one given the nature of existing politics in the US. President Donald Trump is averse to giving out money to anyone let alone a country like Pakistan which is often accused of not helping Washington in achieving its security objectives in Afghanistan. That said if something is to change on the part of Pakistan to convince the current government in the US towards resuming financial assistance to Pakistan, the following has to happen.
One, Pakistan needs to take some palpable steps to convince the US Congress that the former is doing the best it can to help Washington in Afghanistan. The US for a long time has maintained that Pakistan should use its influence to force the Afghan Taliban toward reconciliation with Washington. Pakistan on its part maintains that while the country is interested in peace in Afghanistan and has attempted to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table, Islamabad cannot force the group into talks which will have implications for Pakistan as well.
Under President Trump, Washington doesn’t want anything less than complete cooperation from Islamabad if the Pentagon and the State Department are to make a convincing case in Pakistan’s favor. It has already been reported that Trump’s decision to cut complete military aid as well as military training programs with Pakistan have not been fully endorsed by the US’s security establishment that sees ties with Pakistan in a strategic light beyond Afghanistan. Cutting all sorts of military ties with a nuclear power doesn’t only take away Washington’s ability to build ties with future leaders of the military but also put the US on a disadvantage when it comes to having influence in the country.
Second, the US is not happy with the Chinese growing footprint in Pakistan and has implicitly and explicitly opposed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The US has not only cut Pakistan’s aid but has also made it clear it any money from the Western lenders particularly the IMF will not go to repay the Chinese loans. In part, Washington’s position is motivated by China’s growing influence in the region which the former is trying to undercut and Pakistan has become a competing field. Islamabad needs to figure out a way to balance its relationship between the two countries as neither China nor the US is happy with Pakistan’s over-reliance on one country and a breakdown of a relationship with the other.
It’s unlikely that Pakistan is going to be able to make Washington happy to an extent that the latter resumes the flow of funding to Pakistan. This is not to say that Pakistan is not making efforts to improve its ties with the US rather it is the nature of politics and existing foreign policy priorities in the US that are going to make it only difficult for Pakistan to convince the Trump administration of its actions to make Washington’s life easy in Afghanistan. Arguably, Pakistan has done the best it can to accommodate Washington’s pressure and demands. Recently, Pakistan helped arrange direct talks between the Afghan Taliban and the US in UAE. Moreover, Pakistan has been trying to change its policy in Afghanistan: Islamabad recently also acknowledged that New Delhi can play a constructive role in Afghanistan to help end the Afghan war.
The presence of the US military is the only leverage which Washington’s representative in Afghanistan could have used to extract concessions from the Taliban.
However, this has not changed anything on the ground concerning Trump’s view on aid for the country. While talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban are in an early phase, President Trump has announced to draw down its military presence in Afghanistan. The presence of the US military is the only leverage which Washington’s representative in Afghanistan could have used to extract concessions from the Taliban. It appears that US’s Afghan policy is in shambles and there is no coherent and long-term planning in place with President Trump calling the shots which appear to be contradictory to what his military and diplomatic advisers have been saying.
In this context, it’s unlikely that President Trump will consider resuming aid to Pakistan. Even if there was a resumption of aid to Pakistan it is going to be very small and will come with tough conditions. It’s an open secret that Pakistan sees a loss if the country takes an action against the Taliban: taking on a group which controls almost 50% of Afghanistan and have been called a legitimate stakeholder, doesn’t serve Pakistan’s interests in the long run.
Pakistan is unlikely to go beyond what it has already done: an effort to put the US and the Afghan Taliban leadership in one room to not only appease the hardliners in Washington but also to show its sincerity towards the reconciliation process. However, beyond this, Islamabad considers any action as a strategic blunder as it is not interested in making enemies next door