Trump administration prepares to withhold $255 million in aid to Pakistan

The $255 million accounts to almost 25 per cent of annual aid package from Washington to Pakistan

FILE - In this Dec. 22, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Trump is threatening to cut off aid money to the Palestinian Authority and acknowledging that the Middle East peace process appears to be stalled. Trump says in a pair of tweets that, “we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue ...peace treaty with Israel.”(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
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The Trump administration has informed members of Congress that it will withhold security aid to Pakistan over what it described as “double game” by the authorities in Islamabad in countering the terrorism.

The announcement, which reflects US administration’s increasing levels of frustration with Pakistan, could be confirmed at any point within the next 24 hours.

How much of an impact the move would have is not clear, with one expert warning that it could be ineffective and a former Pakistani diplomat telling The National it doesn’t go far enough.

Read more: Trump's ramped-up rhetoric will strain an already difficult relationship

Reuters reported late on Wednesday that the White House has been informing members of Congress it has decided “to cut off ‘security assistance’ to Pakistan.”

Last week, the New York Times reported that the Trump team was considering withholding the $255 million in aid that it delayed sending to Islamabad last year, something that US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley confirmed in a press conference on Tuesday.

Ms Haley accused Pakistan of playing “a double game for years”. Her comments came shortly  after Mr Trump’s tweet accusing Islamabad of “lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!.”

While the administration has not given details on the how the aid would be cut and for how long, the $255 million accounts to almost 25 per cent of annual aid package from Washington to Pakistan (estimated at $1.1 billion).

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US between 2008-2011 and director of the South and Central Asia centre at the Hudson Institute, supported the idea of financial pressure on Islamabad to change its behaviour.

He told The National that “Pakistan’s military believes the policies it pursues, including support for the Taliban, are in Pakistan’s national interest and they will not change their definition of national interest until the cost of pursuing it becomes higher than what they are willing to bear.”

Withholding $255 million, however, may not be enough he noted, and “President Trump may have to go farther than cutting off aid to get to that point.”

Read more: Trump's first tweet of 2018 threatens to cut aid to Pakistan

Stephen Tankel, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, added more doubt to the impact of Mr Trump’s move.  “On its own, withholding $255 million in assistance is not going to coerce Pakistan into taking more action against the Taliban and Haqqani Network” he said.

“The stakes in Afghanistan are just too high for Pakistan, and it has shown willingness to leave money on the table before - over $600 million in coalition support funds reimbursements - rather than act against the Haqqani network” Mr Tankel told The National. “There’s no reason to think this will be different.”

The pressure in itself may also backfire, the expert warned.

“There’s also a risk that in attempting to compel Pakistan to act against what it views as vital interests, the administration instead leads it to retaliate and reduce cooperation in areas such as access to its air space or supply routes into Afghanistan” he said.

Mr Haqqani agreed that there could be retaliation but one that would hurt Pakistan in the process. He said the authorities in Islamabad “could shut down trans-shipment of supplies for NATO but they would only lose revenue.”.

Asked about possible impact on US troops in Afghanistan, the former ambassador said “they are already under attack from Taliban and the Haqqani Network fighters operating from Pakistan.”

“Without a safe haven, the Taliban would pose a lesser threat to American troops” Mr Haqqani said.

But as relations grow more tense between Washington and Islamabad, the opposite is happening between Pakistan and China.  Pakistan’s Central bank announced on Tuesday that it has officially adopted Chinese currency for for bilateral trade and investment activities between the two countries.