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US Congress passes bill to slash Pakistan’s defence aid to $150 million

Washington: The United States Congress has passed the National Defense Authorisation Act-2019 (NDAA-19) which capped its security-related aid to Pakistan to $150 million, significantly below the historic level of more than $1 billion to $750 million per year.
This year’s defence legislation, however, removes certain conditions — like action against Haqqani network or Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) — as was the case in the past few years for disbursement of US aid to Pakistan.
The Senate passed the conference report on NDAA-19 by 87 to 10 votes on Wednesday afternoon. The House of Representatives had passed the conference report last week. It now heads to the White House for President Donald Trump’s assent. “The legislation reduces the total amount of funds provided for reimbursement to Pakistan to $150 million. This is a significant reduction from the $700 million that was authorised through Coalition Support Fund (CSF) last year,” Anish Goel, who was part of Barack Obama’s White House National Security Council, said.
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However, in doing so, the legislation gets rid of the certification requirements for Pakistan’s action against the Haqqani Network and it also gets rid of the authority to reimburse Pakistan for counter-terrorism, he said. “Hence, the Pentagon no longer has any tools to put pressure on Pakistan to undertake counter-terrorism activities or action against the Haqqani Network,” Goel, who till recently was a senior staffer in the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.
Joshua White, who was also a part of Obama’s White House National Security Council team and worked on Pakistan, said this year’s defence legislation significantly reduces the amount of security assistance that Pakistan can theoretically receive outside of traditional Foreign Military Financing.
“It makes Pakistan ineligible for Coalition Support Funds (CSF), but adds Pakistan to a list of countries that can receive a related form of assistance designed to help partner nations bolster border security,” White said and observed, “This legislation is a mixed blessing for Pakistan.”
“On one hand, these new border security funds will be capped at $150 million per year, significantly below historical levels of CSF. On the other hand, the legislation does away with the onerous reporting requirements and certifications that have, in practice, made it difficult for Pakistan to receive such funds,” he said.
The former White House official noted that it is important to consider this legislation in the current political context. “The Trump administration has effectively frozen security assistance to Pakistan, and this new legislation will do nothing in the short-term to change that,” he said.
“It does, however, mean that if the administration decides to resume some form of modest security assistance in the future, it will be authorised by the Congress to do so without having to produce detailed reports and make difficult certifications regarding Pakistan’s support vis-a-vis the Haqqani network and other threats to the United States,” White said.
“Over the longer term, that could prove to be a win for Pakistan,” he said while noting that in theory, the new funding authority does not permit counter-terrorism assistance, but only assistance related to border security. “In practice, these terms are so malleable that I do not expect that the Pentagon would find itself very limited as to the kind of support it could provide,” White said.