PM Imran Khan's biggest foreign policy challenge looms ahead

PM Imran Khan's biggest foreign policy challenge looms ahead
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WASHINGTON - The US military is seeking to reallocate $300 million in aid to Pakistan due to Islamabad's lack of “decisive actions” in support of regional American strategy, the Pentagon said on Saturday.

The US has been pushing Pakistan to crack down on alleged militant safe havens in the country — Islamabad denies any safe havens on its soil — and announced a freeze on aid at the beginning of the year that an official said could be worth almost $2 billion.

“Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy... $300m (actually $323.6m to include non-Pakistan funds) was reprogrammed by the Defense Department in the June/July 2018 time frame for other urgent priorities,” Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said.

The US defence department “is awaiting a congressional determination on whether this reprogramming request will be approved or denied”, Faulkner said. The move comes ahead of Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Joseph F. Dunford's visit to Islamabad next week.

They are also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan .

In their talks with Pakistani officials, the delegation will “make very clear what we have to do, all of our nations, in meeting our common foe, James Mattis has said earlier “And make that a primary part of the discussion.”

Pakistan has fought fierce campaigns against homegrown militant groups and says it has lost thousands of lives and spent billions of dollars in its long war on extremism.

But US officials accuse Islamabad of ignoring or even collaborating with groups that attack Afghanistan from alleged safe havens along the border between the two countries.

The White House believes that a Pakistani crackdown could be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the long-running war in Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump's predecessor Barack Obama authorised drone strikes on Pakistani soil and sent US commandos to kill Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout.

But Trump's aggressive language has especially angered Pakistani officials. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Trump wrote on Twitter at the beginning of the year.

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Pakistani leaders disputed the $33b figure, insisting that around half of the money relates to reimbursements, and the prime minister's office accused Trump of ignoring the great sacrifices the country has made to fight extremism.

In March, a senior US official said that Pakistan has “done the bare minimum to appear responsive to our requests,” and concerns over a lack of action by Islamabad against militant groups still persist.

“We continue to press Pakistan to indiscriminately target all terrorist groups,” Faulkner had said. - APP/AFP

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