Pakistan responded as it has in the past for being called out for its mendacity and perfidy: It rallied its trolls; it summoned the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad for a démarche; and, in all forums possible, it denied the allegations of nefarious deeds with all of the sincerity and credibility of the wholesome human resources manager of the Chicken Ranch.
‘Much Bigger’ Buttons Have Nothing to Do With Deterrence
Trump doesn’t understand how armed diplomacy works.
Even as the tweet continued to titillate Trump enthusiasts in India and at home, however, the responsible members of Trump’s government were strategizing how to roll it back. Later that same day, a White House National Security Council spokesperson explained what, specifically, to expect: “The United States does not plan to spend the $255 million in FY 2016 foreign military financing for Pakistan at this time.” This is not the sweeping cutoff that Trump implied in his braggadocios tweet.
In fact, there is little that is, or ever will be, new in Trump’s Pakistan policy.In fact, there is little that is, or ever will be, new in Trump’s Pakistan policy. That’s true for two simple reasons: the logistics of staying the course in Afghanistan and the night terrors triggered by imagining how terrifying Pakistan could be without American money.
Obama did the same thing, too, and nothing changed
Trump is not the first U.S. president to express distaste for Pakistan’s actions. In August 2007, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama threatened to undertake unilateral military strikes against the terrorists harbored by Pakistan. Obama, upon being president, took the fight to Pakistan with his zealous use of airstrikes by remotely piloted aerial vehicles. Moreover, in March 2009, when Obama announced his so-called Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, he specifically identified the latter as a terrorist safe haven. “You know, eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.” And it was Obama who ordered U.S. Navy SEALs to unilaterally attack a compound near Pakistan’s famed military academy in which Osama bin Laden had been residing in plain sight for numerous years.
The Obama administration also withheld funds from Pakistan for several years. It did so because the U.S. Congress passed legislation that authorized $1 billion in coalition support funds (CSF) but rendered $300 million hostage to Pakistan taking decisive action against the Haqqani Network and in later years against the Lashkar-e-Taiba. This money could only be paid if the administration certified that Pakistan had complied with the requirements. On several occasions, it demurred to do so.
It is also worth noting that Trump’s tweet only reinforced what the New York Times reported on Dec. 29, that the Trump administration was going to withhold — wait for it — $255 million in foreign military financing (FMF). FMF funds enable partner countries to buy “U.S. defense articles, services, and training” and are provided either as a nonrepayable grant or on a loan basis. This is hardly a sweeping punishment that will persuade Pakistan to begin acting against terrorism. Historically, FMF funds have not been the mainstay of the American dole to Pakistan. Out of the more than $33 billion given to Pakistan since fiscal year 2002, FMF has accounted for less than $4 billion. The most lucrative payouts have been through the CSF program, which totals more than $14.5 billion.
America’s preferred roads to Afghanistan go through Pakistan
Why is it that the United States continues to make huge payouts to Pakistan even though it is widely recognized that the country continues to fund the very organizations — such as the Haqqani Network, the Taliban, and groups like the LeT — that are killing U.S. troops and allies in Afghanistan? Why can’t the United States simply take its checkbook and let China take over paying Pakistan’s bills as Pakistan continually threatens will happen should the United States walk away from this abusive relationship for good? There are several important reasons, none of which are easily ignored.