Pakistan rejects US aid and pressure over national security

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Pakistan rejects US aid and pressure over national security

ISLAMABAD - Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance Miftah Ismail reacted angrily to United States’ (US) pressure over Islamist extremism and the financing of terror but was still considering new measures to curb money laundering in a bid to fend off international sanctions.

Ismail told *Financial Times* that he was “not worried” if the US canceled all its aid to Pakistan.

“We are the sixth or seventh-largest country in the world and have the seventh-largest standing army in the world,” Ismail said in an interview at his office in Islamabad. “We’re not going to compromise on our security interest and our national interest based on a few hundred million dollars, I promise you that,” he added.

Recently, US President Donald Trump recommitted to the Afghan war and tried to push Pakistan to do more to tackle the Taliban and affiliated groups, in part by cancelling military aid and threatening further sanctions. Trump tweeted that his country had given the country more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years but received “nothing but lies and deceit” in return.

That tweet was followed by an announcement that the US would suspend $2 billion in military aid in an effort to push Islamabad into further action against domestic extremists. Congress was also considering a bill that would see civilian aid also brought to an end.

Since then, US officials had worked hard to persuade their Pakistani counterparts to take the kind of action that could see aid restored, such as arresting Taliban leaders and freezing their bank accounts. Far from improving relations, however, senior politicians in Islamabad said that they were being “lectured to” and “bullied”, and told the *Financial Times *that relations were at an all-time low.

The deterioration in the relationship could threaten US efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, because Washington was hoping that Islamabad would support US troop movements and help bring elements of the Taliban to the negotiating table.

While much of the negotiation was being done behind closed doors, Ismail’s comments were a rare public admission of the frustration felt by the government over its treatment at the hands of the Trump administration.

Islamabad was particularly incensed by the US-led push to name and shame Pakistan as failing to stop terrorism financing at a recent international meeting in Paris. Members of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which included the US, UK, Russia and China, had proposed placing Pakistan on its “grey list” of countries which were not doing enough to tackle terror funding.

Islamabad has until June to come up with a plan, which Ismail said would involve prosecuting more people for terror financing and carrying out raids on illegal money changers but he expressed anger at the way in which the negotiations were handled in Paris.

Accusing Washington of teaming up with New Delhi, he said, “I think that America and India probably together were just focused on embarrassing Pakistan.”

Ismail was also weighing up several anti-money-laundering measures that he hoped would help persuade the international community not to impose further sanctions. They included forcing holders of foreign currency bank accounts to declare the source of deposits over $100,000, as well as a one-time amnesty for Pakistanis to declare offshore wealth to authorities.

But he insisted that Pakistan’s biggest mistake was failing to get its message across to its international partners. “We are doing all we can to improve the security situation in the region but maybe the world is not seeing our narrative [as] we want,” he said.