WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has signed into law a $700 billion defence bill that includes up to $700 million to reimburse Pakistan for supporting US military operations in Afghanistan.

President Trump put his signature on this sweeping defence policy bill on Tuesday, which also authorises additional spending on missile defence programmes to counter North Korea’s growing nuclear weapons threat.

The US Congress passed the National Defence Authorisation Act 2018 early last month, allowing up to $700m in Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for Pakistan as well. But half of this amount has been withheld and can only be released if the US secretary of defence certifies that Pakistan is taking demonstrable steps for curbing the Haqqani network.

Two successive US defence secretaries — Ashton Carter and James Mattis — refused to give such a certification, preventing the administration to release the funds set aside for Pakistan in the two previous budgets.

The bill, signed into law on Tuesday, includes the restriction attached by Congress and so far there’s no indication that Secretary Mattis will issue the required certification for Pakistan.

The law also requires the Pentagon to monitor Washing­ton’s security assistance to Pakistan and ensure that the country does not use it to support militant groups.

An earlier version of the bill asked the defence secretary to certify that Pakistan had taken steps to demonstrate its commitment to prevent the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba from using Pakistani territory as a safe haven and for fundraising or recruiting efforts.

But when the US House of Representatives and the Senate released their joint version of the 2018 National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), they deleted Lashkar-e-Taiba from the list and focused only on the Haqqani network.

This was the first indication that the United States could show leniency in Pakistan’s disputes with India if Islamabad agrees to help it out in Afghanistan.

The law in its present form also seeks a declaration from the US defence secretary that Pakistan is working with Afghanistan to restrict the movement of militants along the Afghan border, and has shown progress in arresting and prosecuting senior leaders and mid-level operatives of the Haqqani network.

The previous version also sought a similar declaration for Lashkar-e-Taiba, but is not there in the present law.

The NDAA 2018 also expresses concern about the alleged persecution of various political or religious groups in Pakistan, including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, Sindhis, Hazaras and the Baloch.

It urges the secretary of defence to ensure that Pakistan will not use any assistance provided by the United States to persecute minority groups.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2017