ISLAMABAD: In a move that has blocked the disbursement of the next tranche of Coalition Support Fund (CSF), the United States has told Pakistan that it would not be certifying to the Congress that its (Pakistani) counter-terrorism operation in North Waziristan damaged the Haqqani network.
This was conveyed by the US Department of Defence to the Pakistani mission in Washington as well as to the authorities in Islamabad, according to a highly placed source.
The Foreign Office did not immediately reply to a question about the US communication, but a senior official based at the FO, speaking in private, said they had been informally told about the decision.
Obama administration refuses to certify to Congress that the group was damaged in Zarb-i-Azb operation
The US move is politically more damaging for Islamabad than its financial impact, which is significant nevertheless for being an important source for narrowing the current account deficit. More importantly, it coincided with the deterioration in ties with Afghanistan because of Kabul’s allegations that Islamabad continued to harbour Taliban bases from where attacks were being launched.
The US decision is also likely to sour ties in the run-up to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s scheduled visit to White House in October.
The US has been reimbursing Pakistan for operations and maintenance costs incurred in direct support of its operations in Afghanistan since 2001. So far $13 billion has been reimbursed to Pakistan under this arrangement.
The CSF arrangement was supposed to end with the completion of the drawdown in Dec 2014, but the US government late last year extended the programme for another year through legislation which envisaged additional conditions, including a requirement for certification by the defence secretary that military operations in North Waziristan have significantly disrupted the safe haven and freedom of movement of the Haqqani network in Pakistan.
The certification has to be made by the US defence secretary to congressional committees after every six months.
The last tranche of $337 million was received by Pakistan last month. The non-certification will affect the disbursement of the next instalment.
It comes at a time when the US is discussing the future of CSF post-2016.
Doubts have been expressed in the past by both the US and Afghanistan that the Haqqani network has been spared in the Operation Zarb-i-Azb. But it’s the first time that the US has taken such a harsh step.
It also shows how seriously the Americans take the continuing threat posed by the Haqqani network, whose current chief Sirajuddin Haqqani earlier this month took over as Taliban’s deputy chief during the succession in the insurgent group that followed the disclosure about Taliban chief Mullah Omar’s death.
Pakistani military has, however, been insisting that “terrorists of all shades” were targeted in Zarb-i-Azb launched in June last year.
The operation is in its final phases and the ground offensive for clearing Shawal valley is expected soon.
The military has over the past few days stepped up air strikes against terrorist targets in Shawal, killing dozens of terrorists and “damaging their (terrorist) infrastructure, including an ammunition dump”.
Despite differences over the Haqqani network, the US has been appreciative of the North Waziristan operation.
Some US officials have, however, been cautious in media comments regarding their assessment about the impact of operation on the Haqqani network as they say: “We welcome Pakistan’s public commitment that the operation is and would be indiscriminate.”
But they wouldn’t be more specific about their assessment.
They further say that it is important that terrorist safe havens do not re-emerge in the area.
Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2015