WASHINGTON- The US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied any link between Pakistan’s cooperation with Trump’s strategy to force the Afghan Taliban into peace talks and the possible loss of U.S. civilian assistance, stressing that any TIP decision would be based solely on Islamabad’s human trafficking record.
The State Department declined comment, except to cite the penalties available under the US anti-human trafficking law.
Pakistan has long rejected US accusations that it provides Afghan Taliban and allied Haqqani network militants with sanctuaries from which they attack the Kabul government and US-led foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Future civilian aid hinges on Pakistan’s rating in the State Department’s 2018 TIP report, an assessment of how more than 180 countries and territories are fighting human smuggling, modern slavery and related issues like child soldiers.
Pakistan has been on the report’s Tier 2 “Watch List” for four years, the limit a country can remain at the second-to-worst ranking. Unless it is upgraded, Pakistan will drop to Tier 3, the lowest rung, alongside Iran, North Korea and Syria, among others.
This would trigger the suspension of civilian assistance, except for humanitarian and trade-related aid, unless Trump, who has been stridently critical of Pakistan, waives the penalties. A Tier 3 rating assesses that a country does not comply with minimum US standards against human trafficking.
Pakistan has struggled to eradicate bonded labour practices, especially in dirty brick kilns where children often work.
Ahsan Iqbal said Pakistan would soon enact tougher laws. He did not confirm, however, that Washington had warned his government about potential aid cuts related to human trafficking.
“This cause is much more valuable than billions of dollars in aid because this is about human dignity,” he told *Reuters*. “There has to be more understanding of the efforts that countries like us are doing.”
Pakistani officials dismissed the impact of a loss of US civilian aid, most of which flows through non-governmental organisations, on the country’s growing economy of nearly $300 billion.
Still, they have expressed concern that Washington wants international bodies to punish Pakistan for not heeding Trump’s South Asia security agenda.
In February, urged by the United States and European powers, the Financial Action Task Force, a global money-laundering watchdog, placed Pakistan on a terrorist financing watchlist.
Pakistan fears Washington could use its vote in the IMF, to which the United States is the largest contributor, to oppose new loans to Islamabad. Pakistan’s economic growth has surged to above 5 per cent, but many analysts expect Pakistan to seek a new IMF bailout this year due to a ballooning current account deficit and dwindling foreign currency reserves.