WASHINGTON: The Trump administration may withhold $255 million from a fund meant for providing military training and equipment to Pakistan, adding to already existing cuts on reimbursements, official sources told Dawn.

On Saturday, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was “contemplating withholding” $255m in aid over what it feels is Islamabad’s ‘non-serious attitude’ in helping counter terrorism in Afghanistan.

The administration believes Pakistan’s intransigence is signified by its “repeated refusal” to grant the United States access to a Haqqani network operative, who was allegedly captured by Pakistani forces during an October raid to free a Canadian-American family, the report added.

The United States introduced cuts in reimbursements to Pakistan in 2015, when it withheld $300m from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), meant for helping an ally in the fight against terrorism. Pakistan receives these reimbursements for fighting terrorists in Fata and for monitoring the Pak-Afghan border.

American authorities seek access to captor arrested during rescue of a kidnapped family

In 2016, the withheld amount increased to $350m, in 2017 to $400m and the proposed cut for 2018 is $350m. The withheld amount stays in an escrow fund for two years but it is usually re-appropriated for other purposes before it lapses.

Technically, Pakistan can reclaim the money within two years if the US Secretary of Defence certifies to Congress that Islamabad has taken appropriate actions to eradicate the Haqqani network. The secretary, however, has not issued this certificate since 2015 and Congress has refused to authorise the administration to waive the requirement in “US national interests”.

The $255m mentioned in The NYT report is from FMF (Foreign Military Financing), which is meant for providing military training and equipment to an allied nation.

Pakistan received $265m from FMF in 2015 and $255m each in 2016 and 2017.

Once Congress passes a proposed assistance from FMF, the US State Department makes a notification on how it intends to use this fund and sends it to Congress for a second endorsement. The approval for the amount appropriated for 2017 came in September, less than a month after President Donald Trump launched his new strategy for Afghanistan, which seeks Pakistan’s support for militarily defeating the Taliban to force them to join reconciliation talks with Kabul.

US officials are believed to have informed their Pakistani counterparts that the appropriated amount cannot be released until negotiations over the new strategy reach a conclusion.

The US administration is demanding access to one of the abductors of a North American couple who was arrested when Pakistani forces rescued the couple on a tip from the US intelligence.

American citizen Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle, spent almost five years in the Haqqani network’s custody and their three children were born in captivity. US officials say that Pakistani authorities never mentioned that they had seized one of the captors alive and are now demanding access to him.

Diplomatic observers in Washington say that while Pakistan may give US interrogators access to the captor, they do not want talks on a future relationship with the United States to focus on one captor or one network of terrorists.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2017

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