ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on Sunday reacted cautiously to the US cancellation of $300 million in aid to Pakistan, insisting the money is not assistance but reimbursements for the country’s expenses in the fight against terrorism.
However, what was significant in the hurriedly-called news conference of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was that the government had decided not to react in a knee-jerk manner.
The guarded reaction came after consultations at the Foreign Office where other state institutions also gave their inputs on how to respond to the latest US move.
It was decided not to react strongly at this stage and instead wait for the visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is due in Islamabad on Wednesday.
Qureshi politely reminded the US that the cancelled $300 million was not aid but the expenses Pakistan had incurred in the fight against terrorism.
“This is not aid. This is our money that we have spent in the fight against terrorism,” the foreign minister insisted but stopped short of denouncing the US move.
Instead Qureshi said Pakistan would listen to the US concerns during the upcoming visit of Pompeo to Islamabad and added the government would also convey its concerns to the US administration as well.
Deviating from the pre-election rhetoric, Qureshi emphasised that the PTI government wanted good relationship with the US based on mutual respect and benefit.
The carefully-worded statement amply demonstrated that the PTI government had realised that bravado would not work.
Other state institutions, with a say on such matters, are also believed to have advised the government not to resort to rhetoric.
Earlier, the Pentagon announced that it was canceling $300 million in aid to Pakistan for its lack of decisive action against militant groups.
“Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said.
Faulkner said the Pentagon aimed to spend the $300 million on “other urgent priorities” if approved by Congress.
He said another $500 million in CSF was stripped by Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, to bring the total withheld to $800 million.
The announcement, coming just days before the crucial visit of the secretary of state, suggests that the US administration apparently does not expect any concession from the new government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The visit is already marred by a controversy over a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Imran Khan and the secretary of state. The two sides issued divergent statements after the telephonic conversation.
Pakistan contested the State Department’s version that Pompeo had raised the issue of the presence of terrorist groups on the Pakistani soil with the new prime minister.
However, the Foreign Office spokesperson said Pakistan had decided to move on after the State Department reportedly shared a transcript of the telephonic conversation with Pakistan.
At the heart of the controversy is the longstanding demand by the US to take action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. Despite Pakistan’s denials, the US believes that the Taliban leadership has found refuge in Pakistan.
The US has been pushing Pakistan either to take action against those groups or persuade them to come to the negotiating table.
Some observers believe the US move could be part of pressure tactics after the change of government in Pakistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan in the past opposed the open-ended presence of the US forces in Afghanistan. He was also critical of the US role and insisted that Washington always used Pakistan as a client state.
However, after winning the elections, Imran said Pakistan wants to have good relationship with the US but the one that would be based on mutual respect and for the benefit of both the countries.
The cancelation of aid is part of President Trump’s New Year tweet in which he launched a scathing criticism against Pakistan for betraying the US.
The Pentagon had made similar determinations on CSF in the past but this year’s move could get more attention from Islamabad and its new prime minister, Imran Khan, at a time when the economy is struggling.
Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have plummeted over the past year and it will soon decide on whether to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or friendly nations such as China.
The United States has the largest share of votes at the IMF. Imran, who once suggested he might order shooting down of the US drones if they entered Pakistani airspace, has opposed the US’ open-ended presence in Afghanistan.