On January 1st, in his first tweet of the year, Donald Trump posted to his Twitter account that the US would withhold military aid to Pakistan. According to the president Pakistan has received “billions of dollars in aid over the past fifteen years” and has repaid the United States with only “lies and deceit.”
A National Security Council spokesman confirmed the decision by the administration stating that "the United States does not plan to spend the $255 million in FY 2016 foreign military financing for Pakistan at this time."
While many US media outlets expressed shock at the president’s decision, putting this recent announcement by Trump into context shows that it should not be taken as a surprise at all, but as rather the natural progression of a clear US policy plan, a course that had begun to take shape some months ago.
The relationship between Pakistan has been particularly wobbly over the past five months. In August, the president revealed his new strategy for the 17-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. A key element of this plan was to pressure Pakistan into more consistent cooperation in the region and move them to stop their alleged support of terror groups.
The unfortunate reality is that Pakistan as a whole contains a series of systemic extremist problems. While the country’s leaders certainly have an interest in combating terror groups, (Pakistan itself being a long-time victim of jihadist violence) they are incapable of completely removing the deeply rooted support for extremism in every sphere of the country. As explained in an earlier TrigTent installment on US-Pakistan relations, Pakistan’s intelligence and military are infused with extremist sympathizers. The same holds true for the country’s religious and political echelons. Pakistani politicians and clerics support the Taliban and help train militants at the madrassas and other institutions with which they are affiliated.
By withholding funds and calling out the country as part of its strategy in dealing with Afghanistan, the US administration was prodding Pakistan to start cleaning house.
Over the past four months, Trump and his team have been looking to catch some sign that Pakistan is moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, the reality on the ground has indicated that terrorists are still operating freely in the country.
Just as recently as December 26, the US targeted a jihadist leader in a drone strike in Pakistan’s territory in the Kurram province. The target, known as Jamiuddin, was a high ranking officer in the Haqqani Network, an integral part of the Afghan Taliban, and was also known to be closely allied with both al Qaeda and Pakistan’s ISI. According to reports, this was just one of five separate strikes in Pakistan in 2017.
The question now is how Pakistan’s leadership will respond in the long term. While Pakistani politicians have cried out in protest at Trump’s decision, there is little the nation can do other than attempt to rebuild trust with the United States. Pakistan has a chance of doing this by perhaps providing some form of substantial and regular assistance to US efforts in the region and demonstrating a more serious crackdown on extremist elements within.