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US freezes aid, assistance to Pakistan

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Washington, Jan 05: Toughening its stance, the US on Friday suspended more than USD 1.15 billion security assistance to Pakistan for failing to take “decisive actions” against “terror” groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network operating from its soil.
The freezing of all security assistance to Pakistan comes after President Donald Trump in a New Year’s Day tweet accused Pakistan of giving nothing to the US but “lies and deceit” and providing “safe haven to terrorists” in return for USD 33 billion aid over the last 15 years.
The suspended amount also includes USD 255 million in Foreign Military Funding (FMF) for the fiscal year 2016 as mandated by the Congress.
In addition, the Department of Defense has suspended the entire USD 900 million of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) money to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2017 and other unspent money from previous fiscal years.
“Today we can confirm that we are suspending national security assistance only, to Pakistan at this time until the Pakistani government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters.
“We consider them (terror groups) to be destabilising the region and also targeting US personnel. The US will suspend that kind of security assistance to Pakistan,” she said.
The US, she said, will not be delivering military equipment or transfer security-related funds to Pakistan unless it is required by law.
In August, while unveiling his new South Asia strategy, Trump had accused Pakistan of giving “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror,” and said the time had come “for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order, and to peace”.
Referring to Trump’s new strategy, Nauert said despite a sustained high-level engagement by Trump administration with the government of Pakistan, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilise Afghanistan and also attack the US and allied personnel.
Department of Defence Spokesperson Lt Col Mike Andrews told PTI that National Defense Authorisation Act 2017 provides up to USD 900 million for Pakistan in the CSF.
Of these funds, USD 400 million can only be released if the Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis certifies that the Pakistan government has taken specific actions against the Haqqani Network.
“At this stage all Fiscal Year 17 CSF have been suspended, so that’s the entire amount of USD 900 million,” Andrews said.
During an interaction with Pentagon reporters, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis did not respond to question if he was in favour of cutting off the aid to Pakistan.
“I prefer not to address that right now because it’s obviously still being formulated as policy. But I’ll give my advice on it to the president. I also agree on some confidentiality there,” he said.
According to a senior State Department official, no decision has been taken on the fate of USD 255 million security assistance to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2017.
The deadline for that is September 30 this year.
Mattis along with the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have travelled to Pakistan in recent months to deliver tough message to the leadership there. So, this action should not come as a surprise to them, Nauert said.
“They may say it’s a surprise, but what is no surprise is that the President has expressed his concerns, Secretary Tillerson has expressed his concerns, as has Secretary Mattis, and I imagine many other government officials having those conversations with Pakistan,” Nauert said.
Now, the money that has been suspended at this time does not mean that it will be suspended forever, she said.
“Pakistan has the ability to get this money back, in the future, but they have to take decisive action. They have to take decisive steps,” she added.
“People have long asked, why don’t you do more about Pakistan, and I think this sort of answers that question. Obviously, Pakistan is important, an important relationship to the US, because together we can work hard to combat terrorism. Perhaps no other country has suffered more from terrorism than Pakistan and many other countries in that part of the region,” she said.
“They understand that, but still they aren’t taking the steps that they need to take in order to fight terrorism,” she said.
In an interaction with reporters, two senior state department officials insisted that such a move is not a punishment, but to provide an incentive to Pakistan to take more action against terrorist groups.
“We have not done anything that’s irreversible here. All this funding is available to Pakistan, if they undertake to take the measures that we’ve asked of them,” a senior administration official said in response to a question.
“Pakistanis have repeatedly said we don’t care about this money. What matters I think to the Pakistani’s is that it is the symbolism of doing this that it represents a deterioration of our relationship that they care about a great deal,” the official said.
“So we were hoping that this is an incentive that they don’t want to see this relationship deteriorate any further and that they’re going to commit to working with us to try to find a way to put it on a more solid footing,” the official added.
The US and others have long complained that Pakistan gives safe haven to the Afghan Taliban and their allies, the Haqqani network, allowing them to carry out cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies allegations but President Trump has escalated the criticism against the country since he took office.
The Pakistanis say they have suffered great losses from the longstanding war against Islamist networks and are furious that Trump has failed to acknowledge the role they have played.
Yesterday, the state department accused Pakistan of severe violations of religious freedom. It announced that it was placing Pakistan on a special watch list, pursuant to 2016 legislation. The step does not carry any serious consequences.


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3 militants killed in Budgam encounter

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Srinagar, Jan 21: Three militant of Hizbul Mujahideen outfit were killed in an encounter at Hapatnar woods in Charar-e-Shareef area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district on Monday.

News agency Global News Service quoted a senior police officer saying that a joint team of Army’s 53 RR, SOG and CRPF launched a cordon-and-search operation in forest area of Hapatnar early Monday morning following “credible inputs” about the presence of some militants.

As the joint team of forces intensified the combing operation, the militants hiding in the area opened fire triggering off a gunfight which continued intermittently till late in the evening.

 

During the course of gunfight, three militants belonged to Hizbul Mujahideen outfit were killed, the officer said.

The operation was prolonged due to the tough terrain amid inclement weather conditions, he added.”So far one body has been recovered along with arms and ammunition. The other two bodies which are lying inside the hideout are yet to be retrieved,” the officer said.

“The identity of the slain is being ascertained,” the officer said.

The officer said that the government forces have also blasted the hideout of the militants in the mountainous area, covered under plenty of snow.

Meanwhile, sources identified one among the slain Shahid Baba of Drabgam, Pulwama. (With inputs from GNS)

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Snow, rains persist: Land, air traffic disrupted

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Srinagar, Jan 21: Although not as severe as predicted, fresh snowfall and rains were Monday lashed Kashmir bringing some respite to the people from the cold wave.
The plains of Kashmir witnessed moderate rainfall from early hours of Monday, while there were reports of snowfall in higher reaches of the valley, officials said here.
The MeT Office has forecast widespread rain and snow over the state with heavy falls at isolated places till Tuesday.
Meanwhile, traffic on the 300-km long Srinagar-Jammu highway was halted because of heavy snowfall on the stretch.
“Today no movement of vehicular traffic on Jammu Srinagar NHW from Jammu towards Srinagar and vice versa as road blocked due to snow accumulation at Nowgam-Jawahar Tunnel-Qazigund Sector and still snowing,” J&K Traffic Police tweeted Monday morning.
Bad weather conditions also disrupted operations at the Srinagar International Airport here, leading to the cancellation of four flights, officials said.
“Due to the inclement weather, four of the 27 flights to and fro Srinagar were cancelled on Monday,” an official of the Airport Authority of India.
Another 11 flights got delayed due to poor visibility and intermittent rainfall since Monday morning, he said.
The minimum temperature in Srinagar on Sunday settled at minus 0.3 degree Celsius, same as previous night, a MET official said.
He said Qazigund, the gateway town to the valley, in south Kashmir recorded a low of 0.6 degree Celsius, while the nearby Kokernag town registered a low of minus 0.3 degrees Celsius Sunday night.
The mercury in Kupwara town in north Kashmir settled at a low of minus 0.6 degree Celsius. Gulmarg ski-resort in north Kashmir recorded a low of minus 4 degrees Celsius Sunday night, while Pahalgam tourist resort, in south Kashmir, recorded a low of 0.2 degrees Celsius, the official said.
He said Leh, in the frontier Ladakh region, recorded a low of minus 5.6 degrees Celsius, while the mercury in Kargil registered a low of minus 14.0 degrees Celsius. Kargil was the coldest recorded place in Jammu and Kashmir, colder than even Drass town which recorded a low of minus 6.8 degrees Celsius.
Kashmir is currently under the grip of ‘Chillai Kalan’, the 40-day harshest period of winter when the chances of snowfall are maximum and the temperature drops considerably.
‘Chillai Kalan’ ends on January 31, but the cold wave continues even after that in Kashmir. The 40-day period is followed by a 20-day long ‘Chillai Khurd’ (small cold) and a 10-day long ‘Chillai Bachha’ (baby cold).

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Lack of funds halts vital JK tourism projects

Bisma Bhat

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Srinagar, Jan 21: The Governor-led administration is mulling to start new projects to boost tourism in Kashmir even as several old ones have been left midway due to want of funds.

In December last year, the administration ordered the constitution of an official panel for identification of new projects in tourism sector to be implemented under Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP).

Back in 2014, the Government of India, under Project/Infrastructure Development for Destination and Circuits (PIDDC), had sanctioned Rs 7593.88 lakh for development of basic tourism infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir through private investment, opening of new potential destinations and development of heritage, adventure, and pilgrim and eco-tourism.

 

However, the projects have been left incomplete as the Centre has, as per the latest official data, released only Rs 3504.80 lakh of the sanctioned amount against which the department shows 100 percent expenditure.

Now, due to the unavailability of funds, the PIDDC project is on standstill.

The project included development of Eidgah, face-lifting of Khankahi Moula, Development of Jamia Masjid Heritage Corridor, Renovation of Aali Masjid, Upgrading of Ziyarat Abdul Razaq Sahib at Hawal, Ziyarat Hazrat Balaad Rumi at Rajouri Kadal, Ziyarat Akhoon Sahib and TajBibi at Fateh Kadal, Ziyarat Hazrat Noor Shaha Sahib at Narwara, and Conservation of areas from Naagar Nagar to Watlab.

The tourist circuit from Naagar Nagar to Watlab, which was a key component of the project, still requires Rs 2312.90 lakh to be completed, official data shows.

Another main component of PIDDC project, construction of Trans Himalayan Culture Centre in Leh, too requires further Rs 1094.48 lakh for completion.

Similarly, development of Khiram Shrine in South Kashmir’s Bijbehara town also remains incomplete for want of funds.
Section Officer of Planning, Tourism Department, Sajad Ahmad, told The Kashmir Monitor that “65 per cent” of the work has been completed on Naagar Nagar to Watlab component of the project.

“We had to stop the work because the Centre did not release the funds,” he added.

Executive Engineer, JK Tourism, Abdul Qayoom Kirmani said they have asked the Government of India for the pending funds and also sent to them the proposal of the new projects.
“We have identified new Rs 100 crore new projects under PMDP-II, which comprises of nine circuits,” he said.

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