America has cancelled £230m ($300m) of aid to Pakistan just days before a visit by Washington’s top diplomat, amid US frustration Islamabad is still doing too little to rein in Afghan militants.
The Pentagon said it would spend the military aid elsewhere because of a lack of Pakistani action backing US troops in Afghanistan.
America has long accused Pakistan, and particularly its military spy agency, of providing a safe haven and support to Taliban militants fighting in Afghanistan.
The announcement to cancel the aid, which was already suspended, came only days before Mike Pompeo is due to arrive in Pakistan requesting help to bolster Ashraf Ghani’s beleaguered Kabul government.
A year into Donald Trump’s revamped South Asia strategy to end the Afghan conflict, US officials say Islamabad has not done enough to clamp down on the Taliban or its Haqqani network faction.
The Taliban continue to control or threaten swathes of the country and recently launched one of their most ambitious attacks, overrunning parts of the city of Ghazni.
The money was withheld “due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said.
America had already announced it was freezing military aid after Mr Trump earlier this year blasted Islamabad for “lies and deceit”. Aid would resume if Pakistan was more cooperative, officials suggested.
Mr Pompeo will be accompanied by America’s top military officer, Gen Joseph Dunford, for talks with Imran Khan that will be dominated by how to combat militants.
Any peaceful solution to America’s 17-year-long Afghan conflict relies on Pakistan’s help, and the White House believes a crackdown by Islamabad could be pivotal in securing a peace settlement. Islamabad meanwhile is likely to need US backing for an International Monetary Fund bailout to ease its dire economic woes. US aid has also until now helped fund a military that consumes a fifth of Pakistan’s government budget.
Faraza Shaikh, a Pakistan expert at Chatham House, said: “[The visit] is important for both sides. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it is very closely tied to Pakistan’s dire economic crisis. If the country is in the end forced to go to the IMF, I think it’s going to need the United States and the Trump administration on side.”
Mr Khan has often railed against US policy in the region and earned the moniker Taliban Khan among political opponents for his supposed soft stance on militancy. Since taking office as prime minister he has said he wants more equal relations with Washington.
“ It’s going to be very treacherous waters now to navigate,” said Dr Shaikh, “but Pakistan does find itself in a very precarious economic situation”.
Pakistan denies doing too little, saying tens of thousands of its troops and civilians have been killed or maimed as it has tried to wrestle with internal militancy. The country says it is being used as a scapegoat for the failures of western policy inside Afghanistan.
Moeed Yusuf, of the US Institute of Peace think tank, said there was little point of a visit if Islamabad and Washington only fell back to their entrenched positions.
He suggested that only by focusing on how to build on the US direct talks with the Taliban would progress be made.