State Department announces indefinite freeze on security aid to Pakistan

Relations between the United States and Pakistan hit a new low Thursday with the Trump administration announcing a broad suspension of nearly all bilateral security aid to Islamabad and calling out the Pakistani government over its weak record on religious freedom. In a sign of the administration’s mounting frustration over what it says Pakistan’s refusal to confront terrorist networks operating in the South Asian nation, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the halt in aid will remain in place indefinitely — until Islamabad “takes decisive action” against Taliban and other jihadist groups. Pakistan, which claims its military has already engaged in a costly internal crackdown on terrorists over the past three years, appeared poised on Thursday to respond to the Trump administration’s move by cutting key American supply routes that run through the nation to U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Ms. Nauert did not specify how much U.S. assistance would be halted, saying only that details were still being worked out. Her announcement Thursday followed a statement earlier in the week by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who said Washington was already withholding $255 million in aid because of Pakistan’s unreliability as a counterterrorism partner. The United States has given more than $30 billion in aid to Islamabad since 2001, with much of the money tied to military training and Pakistani purchases of U.S.-made weaponry. The relationship has been tumultuous though, with the last low point coming in 2011 after U.S. intelligence and special forces found and killed al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden at a hideout inside Pakistan. While relations had strengthened again in recent years, as the Pakistani government launched military operations against jihadists in the country, things deteriorated over the summer amid complaints from U.S. officials that the Pakistanis weren’t doing enough to go after a group known as the Haqqani network, which is accused of targeting American forces in Afghanistan. In August, President Trump accused Pakistan of providing “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror.” A tipping point came more recently, when Pakistan captured an alleged Haqqani operative that Pakistani forces had captured during the rescue of a Canadian-American family in October. The New York Times has reported that U.S. officials demanded access to the operative, who may have valuable information about at least one other American hostage, but that Pakistan rejected the request. It was not clear Thursday how far the Trump administration intends to go in suspending aid to Islamabad, although there were reports that more than a billion dollars earmarked for the nation could be halted. Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said on Twitter Thursday that he is introducing a bill to end aid to Pakistan. While he also did not give a specific dollar figure, the senator said his legislation would take the money and “put it in an infrastructure fund to build roads and bridges here at home.” Speculation swirled Thursday over the geopolitical implications of a major cut in aid to Islamabad. Some have raised concerns that Islamabad may shift toward a military alliance with China, which is reportedly planning to construct its second overseas military base in Pakistan.

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