US to resume military training programme for Pakistan: State Dept

Updated 04 Jan 2020

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US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister Imran Khan during a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, September 23. — AFP
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister Imran Khan during a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, September 23. — AFP

The Trump administration has approved a resumption of Pakistan's participation in a coveted US military training and educational programme more than a year after it was suspended, the State Department said on Thursday.

The decision to resume Islamabad's participation in the International Military Education and Training Programme, or IMET — for more than a decade a pillar of US-Pakistani military ties — underscores warming relations that have followed meetings this year between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Washington also has credited Islamabad with helping to facilitate negotiations on a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The talks recently resumed between the United States and the Taliban, who US officials allege receive sanctuary and other aid from Pakistan's military-led intelligence agency. Pakistan denies the charge.

The State Department administers IMET. It was a small facet of US security aid programmes for Pakistan worth some $2 billion that remain suspended on orders that Trump abruptly issued in January 2018 to compel the nuclear-armed South Asian nation to crackdown on Islamist militants. Trump's decision, announced in a tweet, blindsided US officials.

After an attack earlier this year by the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary troops in Pulwama, US officials called on Islamabad to take “sustained and irreversible action” against militants allegedly operating from its territory.

A State Department spokeswoman said in an email that Trump's 2018 decision to suspend security assistance authorised “narrow exceptions for programmes that support vital US national security interests.” The decision to restore Pakistani participation in IMET was “one such exception,” she said.

The programme “provides an opportunity to increase bilateral cooperation between our countries on shared priorities,” she added. “We want to continue to build on this foundation through concrete actions that advance regional security and stability.”

A second US official said on condition of anonymity that Pakistan was in the process of selecting officers to send to the United States.

The restart of the programme, however, is subject to approval by Congress. Republican and Democratic aides for the Senate and House of Representatives committees with jurisdiction over the process did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

IMET affords spaces to foreign military officers at US military education institutions, such as the US Army War College and the US Naval War College.

Pakistan's suspension from the programme in August 2018 prompted the cancellation of 66 slots set aside that year for Pakistani military officers in one of the first known impacts of Trump's decision to halt security assistance.

The US military traditionally has sought to shield such educational programmes from political tensions, arguing that the ties built by bringing foreign military officers to the United States pay long-term dividends.