The Pentagon’s decision to withhold $300-million military aid to Pakistan for its failure to take sufficient action against the Haqqani Network was long overdue. The move reflects that the US Congress has finally lost patience with Pakistan’s facilitation of militants undermining the US mission in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani Network has carried out a number of kidnappings and attacks against the US interests in Afghanistan, as well as Afghan government and civilian targets. The group is also blamed for several deadly attacks against Indian interests in Afghanistan, including the 2008 bombing of the Indian mission in Kabul that killed 58 people.
For the last few decades, Islamabad-Rawalpindi has always promised to take action against terror groups and requested both for time as well as assistance (economic and military). Till now, Washington was willing to give benefit of doubt. But this seems to be changing.
It is the first time that the Obama administration has blocked military aid to Pakistan because of the Haqqani group, which has been a primary source of US concern in Afghanistan. Some US officials have gone on record to assert that group had links to Pakistani intelligence.
It may not mean an end of the US assistance to Pakistan though as there are still some equities remaining in the relationship that the former could protect even as it ramps up the pressure on Pakistan. Nonetheless, the move marks a significant shift in the US-Pak bilateral ties 15 years after the 9/11 attacks, when the Bush administration initiated a counter-terrorism-based assistance relationship with fewer strings attached.
It also ends a year of speculation about an aid programme that has been fundamental to Pak military operations, and reveals the strains in Washington’s ties with an ally that many officials have accused of double-dealing with militant groups.
In May this year, the US House of Representatives voted 277 to 147 in favour of a defence policy bill to increase restrictions on military aid for Pakistan unless certain conditions were met. With little or no support for Pakistan in the Congress, the US-Pak relationship had frayed long ago and the recent decision is testament to that. The decision could indicate additional steps to increase pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militants causing trouble in Afghanistan.
India must now scale up its efforts to expose Pakistan’s duplicity in the global war against terror by providing evidence to the US and other world powers about its direct and indirect support to the terrorist groups operating from its territory.
New Delhi has already initiated the process to corner Pakistan globally regarding its patronage to the Al Rehmat Trust, a front for the terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad, which carried out the Pathankot attack this year.
India has approached the US and select European countries, which are part of the Financial Action Task Force, to seek the bank transaction details of the trust, which operates a dozen offices in Pakistan. Founded by Jaish chief Maulana Masood Azhar, the Al Rehmat Trust has over `100 crore in its kitty and the money is used for funding and training terrorist modules. The National Investigation Agency had sent a letter rogatory (judicial request) to Pakistan in April this year, but it has not bothered to reply.
The Obama administration’s warning to Islamabad to act against terrorists that target its neighbours is welcome. But it means little more than a lifeguard ticking off a gang of teenagers disturbing others on a beach. It will not force the Pak military establishment to change its behaviour. It has continued
to insist that its actions, including supporting, arming and training terror groups targeting India, are legitimate. These have formed the core of the Pakistan’s anti-India policy since its inception.