Pentagon pressurised US Congress to delink LeT with financial aid to Pakistan: Report

Pentagon pressurised US Congress to delink LeT with financial aid to Pakistan: Report

WASHINGTON - The United States (US) Department of Defence (DoD) placed pressure on key Congressional committees to drop a provision linking financial aid to Pakistan as Islamabad is taking demonstrable action against terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The bill was passed on Tuesday.

DoD prevailed upon Democratic and Republican aides in the House Armed Services to remove the conditionality introduced by the Senate. The provision was part of bill meant to finance the US armed forces called National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) 2018.

According to the new bill passed by Congress (NDAA), Pakistan is obliged to work with the Afghan government and Washington to eliminate safe havens of terror networks on its soil. Congressional aides said that the DoD strongly insisted that curbing the Haqqani network must remain the top priority and adding LeT was like “shifting the goal post for Pakistan.”

The provision was dropped last week when the Senate and the House versions of the NDAA were being reconciled before being voted into law. “But I thought that was the idea of the new South Asia policy,” one democratic party observer said sarcastically, taking a jibe at President Donald Trump’s August speech where he accused Pakistan of harbouring terrorists on its soil. “One of the president’s pillars was being harder on Pakistan. It makes sense to be harder on Pakistan.”

Pakistan has lost $750 million in Coalition Support Funds over the last two years because of its alleged failure to act against terror groups. The secretary of defence has not ‘certified’ Pakistan as taking adequate steps to curb terrorism which gives insight into Washington’s mindset.

Half of the $700 million military and economic aid for Pakistan for 2018 is also tied to conditions related to counter-terrorism measures against the Haqqani Network. Although the bill no longer includes LeT as a targeted group, the conference report does mention it, and says the US Congress remains concerned about its freedom of navigation inside Pakistan.

Pentagon’s decision to not push Pakistan to act against LeT is of crucial importance keeping in mind Trump’s comments and statements on the matter. However, the Senate’s version of the bill said Pakistan must demonstrate it has taken measures to “prevent the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba from using any Pakistan territory as a safe haven and for fundraising and recruiting efforts.”

It also added that Pakistan must coordinate with Afghanistan to prevent movement of terrorists across borders from both groups.

In clear reference to Hafiz Saeed, leader of LeT, the bill said Pakistan must also show “progress in arresting and prosecuting senior leaders and mid-level operatives of the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba.” The LeT’s name appeared several times in the Senate bill.