WASHINGTON: The US National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) 2019, passed by Congress this week, does not link future payments of security-related assistance to Pakistan to the country’s counterterrorism efforts.

The bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate last week, now goes to President Donald Trump for signing into a law. The bill has only one reference to the Haqqani network, which the US claims carries out attacks into Afghanistan from its hideouts in Pakistan, a charge Islamabad rejects as incorrect. It mentions the Haqqani network while talking about the ability of the Afghan security forces to defend their territory against militants.

There are 19 references to Pakistan in the document, known as the conference report, which is the joint version of both chambers of the US Congress.

The first reference comes in the section that lays out the condition for reimbursing some friendly countries for their border security operations. It notes that the US could provide security assistance to Pakistan for supporting and enhancing efforts of its armed forces to “increase security and sustain increased security along the border of Pakistan with Afghanistan”.

It’s not clear how much assistance the US plans to provide to Pakistan for these operations. Some media reports suggested that the amount has been reduced to $150 million from $350 million last year and $700 million a year before.

Other reports, however, suggested that the Trump administration retained $350 million for 2019 as well. The conference report, however, makes it clear that the goals and desired outcomes of each such operation or activity have to be “established and agreed upon in advance by the United States and Pakistan". It also requires a bilateral process to verify the achievement of the goals and desired outcomes, as agreed.

The bill also requires Pakistan to actively coordinate with Afghanistan on issues relating to border security. The US Secretary of Defence is required to provide a quarterly report to Congress about Pakistan’s compliance with the goals and objectives of this assistance.

One section urges Pakistan to release Dr Shakil Afridi, who is praised as “an international hero” for helping the US find Osama bin Laden in a hideout in Abbottabad.

Diplomatic observers in Washington said the reduction in reimbursement was not specific to Pakistan. The NDAA 2019 had reduced total global Coalition Support Fund (CSF) authorisation to $350 million from which Pakistan may receive up to $150 million as reimbursement for border-security operations, not CSF. The remaining $200 million will be “available” to reimburse Pakistan or other nations as CSF.

Anish Goel, a former staffer of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Hindustan Times newspaper that NDAA 2019 “gets rid of the certification requirements for Pakistani action against the Haqqani network, and also gets rid of the authority to reimburse Pakistan for counterterrorism".

This also meant that “the Pentagon no longer has any tools to apply pressure to the Pakistanis to undertake counterterrorism activities or action against the Haqqani network,” explained Mr Goel, who is also a former White House official.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2018

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