US piles more pressure on Pakistan

The Trump administration has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ensure real structural reforms are included as conditionality before approving a loan package for Pakistan.

“We have not seen the IMF package, yet we understand that there has been an agreement reached between the IMF and the government of Pakistan but certainly we have communicated our strong views, and Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo has done so publicly, on the need for any package to include real structural reforms,” Ambassador Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, told members of Congress on Thursday.

During a special hearing on ‘US Interests in South Asia and the 2020 Budget’ before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ambassador Wells did not directly comment on the question if the IMF loan to Pakistan should be blocked until Dr Shakeel Afridi is released. However, she said that the administration has already withheld 130 million dollars in assistance to Pakistan as a result of Dr Afridi’s incarceration. She maintained that Dr Afridi has been jailed “wrongly and inappropriately”, and the administration continues to raise theissue with Pakistani officials.

In her opening remarks, Ambassador Wells recognised that Pakistan has taken steps to encourage Taliban participation in peace negotiations. “However, there’s much more work to be done to achieve our ultimate goal of a peaceful Afghanistan free of terrorist groups,” she said, adding that Pakistani officials are correct when they say that no other country will benefit more from a peaceful Afghanistan than Pakistan, and “we expect Pakistan to continue to play a constructive role in reconciliation efforts”.

The US relationship with Pakistan remains one of our most complex and most consequential, she said in her statement, adding, “In line with the administration’s South Asia strategy, our approach to Pakistan has focused largely on securing Islamabad’s support for the Afghan peace process and for Pakistan to follow through on its pledges to take sustained and irreversible actions against all militant groups operating from within its territory.”

Ambassador Wells stated that the US engagement with Pakistan on non-proliferation issues was also crucial, as both countries attach high importance to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. However, she added that the US remains concerned about Pakistan’s development of certain categories of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

On the broader issue of counterterrorism, the Pulwama terrorist attack in February that sparked a crisis between Pakistan and India underscored the importance and immediate need to halt terrorist activity in the region, she said. Ambassador Wells says

“We continue to urge Pakistan’s leaders to make good on their pledges to take sustained and irreversible actions against terrorist groups operating within the country’s borders, which is necessary for the long-term stability and prosperity of the region,” Ambassador Wells said, adding that in past few months Pakistan has detained some militants and seize assets belonging to front organisations raising funds for terrorist groups.

Pakistan must sustain these measures and expand upon them, including by prosecuting terrorist leaders, she said. “The reality is that terrorist organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) will continue to pose a grave risk to international peace as long as they are able to operate freely in Pakistan. On a multilateral level, we succeeded on May 1 in listing JeM leader Masood Azhar at the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee – an achievement 10 years in the making,” she said.

Her remarks highlighted that “the 2020 US Budget for Pakistan request does not include security assistance funding for Pakistan’s military.” She said the administration intends to focus on civilian assistance programming on priority areas such as building capacity to deter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; building law enforcement capacity to fight crime and terrorism; supporting economic development that can expand US business ties with Pakistan; addressing communicable diseases that threaten both countries; supporting civil society and religious freedom; and working with Pakistan to ensure that communities in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region are stable and cannot be used as a base by terrorists.

The Trump administration has also reduced the civilian and development assistance to Pakistan in its new proposed budget. USAID’s Director of the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs Karen Freeman told the members of the committee that budget request for Pakistan includes 48 million dollars in economic support and development funds.

“The civilian assistance request for Pakistan will complement Pakistan’s own domestic development efforts and support US key interests: supporting the newly merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa KP formerly called Fata, working with Pakistan’s civil society to promote tolerance and combat drivers of extremism, and promoting private sector-led economic growth,” she said.

Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo said that the Trump administration wants closer ties with India and has taken a far tougher stand on Pakistan as compared to previous presidents.

Speaking at the 44th annual meeting of the US-India Business Council, the secretary recounted steps taken by various US presidents to strengthen closer relations with India. He told the audience that President Bush inked a historic civil nuclear deal, whereas President Obama granted India ‘Major Defence Partner’ status.

“Under President Trump, we have taken our defence cooperation to new heights, solidified our common vision for the Indo-Pacific,” the secretary said, further claiming that the Trump administration had taken a far tougher stand on Pakistan.

During his short remarks at the event, the secretary said that both countries must embrace strategic framework. “We respect India as a truly sovereign, important country, with its own unique politics and its own unique strategic challenges,” he said adding, “We realise it’s difficult to deal with the likes of China and Pakistan from across the ocean than it is when they are on your borders.”

Secretary Pompeo also announced that President Obama had supported India’s quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and that’s “a position that the United States continues to support.”

He said that the Trump administration has already enabled American companies to export more high tech items to India. “This includes cutting edge defence platforms like armed UAVs and ballistic missile defence systems,” he said. “We have already launched the Asia-EDGE programme to help raise private capital to meet its energy and security needs for years to come,” he added.

The secretary further said that the first batch of Apache helicopters were coming off Boeing’s production line. “Lockheed Martin’s F-21 and Boeing’s F/A-18 are state-of-the-art fighters that could give India the capabilities it needs to become a full-fledged security provider throughout the Indio-Pacific,” he said.

Addressing the audience at the US Chamber of Commerce, he said it was only natural that the world’s most populous democracy should partner with the world’s oldest democracy to maintain our shared vision throughout the Indo-Pacific.

The Indo-Pacific strategy, submitted in a lengthy report by the Department of Defence earlier this month, has dropped Pakistan as the main ally in South Asia while seeking to bond with five other countries of the region.

While the main objective of the strategy is to counter Russia and China’s influence, it generously offers military and economic partnership to India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Maldives.

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