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Pentagon persuades Congress to delink LeT from Haqqani network

Updated November 20, 2017
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen Joseph Dunford will arrive in Islamabad early next week.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen Joseph Dunford will arrive in Islamabad early next week.

WASHINGTON: The US Depart­­ment of Defence persuaded Cong­ress to drop a provision that linked reimbursements to Pakis­tan with a demonstrable action against Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), diplomatic sources and media reports said.

The move came days before the visits of two senior most US defence officials to Islamabad — Defence Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen Joseph Dunford.

Gen Dunford, who arrives in Islamabad early next week, will hold extensive talks with the country’s military leadership. Secre­tary Mattis, who arrives on Dec 3 for a day, will hold the final talks.

On Thursday, Congress passed a bill, which includes $700 million for Pakistan reimbursement for deploying forces along the Pak-Afghan border, but withheld half the amount. To receive the withheld amount, Pakistan has to take demonstrable action against the Haqqani network, which Washing­ton says still has hideouts in Fata and uses them for launching attacks inside Afghanistan.

An earlier version of the National Defence Authorisation Act, 2018 had named two militant groups — the Haqqani network and LeT. But the final bill only mentioned the Haqqani network. Lashkar was taken off the list.

Quoting sources in the Senate and House armed services committees, US and Indian media reported on Sunday that the Pentagon played a key role in removing LeT from the list.

One report claimed that in their meetings with members of the two committees, Pentagon officials insisted that curbing the Haqqani network “must remain the top priority and adding LeT was like shifting the goal post for Pakistan”.

The report said that while the omission disappointed the Indian government, it was satisfied with the overall US policy of reducing its assistance to Pakistan.

The condition for releasing the withheld amount requires the US secretary of defence to certify that Pakistan has taken the suggested “demonstrable action” against the proscribed group.

Since 2016, when this condition was first attached to the bill, Pakistan has lost about $750 million in Coalition Support Fund, which is used for reimbursing Islamabad.

Diplomatic sources in Washing­ton point out that the Pentagon’s decision to use its influence to remove LeT from the list showed Washington’s desire to keep Pakistan on its side.

Despite their disappointment with Islamabad’s alleged refusal to take on the Haqqani network, policy makers in Washington see Pakistan as key state in a very sensitive region. They point out that Pakistan is a nation of more than 200 million people with a large middle class, which has nuclear weapons as well.

They also acknowledge that the country provides the shortest land route for supplying US forces in Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2017