Pakistan

US aid cut and regional openings for Pakistan

The US House of Representatives joined the Senate on Tuesday in seeking to end US economic aid to Pakistan while the Trump administration has already suspended military aid. The bill also recommends that the money set aside for Islamabad should be spent domestically on infrastructure projects.  The bill alleges Islamabad of providing intelligence and financial support to terrorist groups; a charge Pakistan has constantly and strongly denied.

This legislation, introduced by Congressmen Mark Sanford from South Carolina and Thomas Massie from Kentucky, also asks the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to stop sending any money to Pakistan. It was four days after President Trump’s tweet early this year that his administration suspended financial assistance to Pakistan.

 

Pakistan’s interior minister Ahsan Iqbal, while talking to a newspaper, has not only denied US allegations but also called for bilateral talks in order to clear the air of mistrust between both the countries. Iqbal also stressed that Pakistan’s partnership is important to US plans in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Pakistan is also seeking pending payments worth billions of dollars from the US. “We are calculating the amount. It is in billions of dollars. They have suspended the aid but they cannot suspend the pending payments. That’s our right.”, a senior FO official told a local newspaper.

What makes the current aid cut different from previous US actions is Pakistan’s tougher stance against Washington’s allegations. Moreover, with an ever growing relationship with China, Pakistan has more and new options for regional alliances. Additionally, Pakistan is pivotal to China’s One Belt One Road initiative, which ensures Pakistan’s strong partnership with Beijing in the future.

In addition to that, Islamabad and Moscow are also warming up to each other. Both the countries have not only enhanced their military and energy cooperation, but commercial ties have started to gain pace. In Moscow, Pakistan has found another regional partner that can help reduce Islamabad’s dependence on Washington.

Soon after Trump’s tweet in January, both Russia and China sent ‘assurances’ that Islamabad was not ‘isolated’. “The contacts with Russia after Trump’s statement have been encouraging. They support our view and are standing with us. Russia is willing to enhance the bilateral ties and engage further on defence. We have two big powers with us as Washington attempts to pressurise Pakistan”, a senior Pakistani foreign office official said at that time.

Pakistan’s growing ties with China and especially Russia can be seen as a major paradigm shift in regional and global politics. However, both the US and Pakistan need to realise that they might need each at some point in the future, especially in context of regional terrorism and Afghanistan. Washington cannot get India to help it defeat the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan, whereas Pakistan cannot get everything it needs – both in terms of finances and defence requirements – from China. Political pragmatism, therefore, is the need of the hour.

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