Pakistan’s new prime minister Imran Khan will be held to the same standards as previous governments, the US seemed to signal on Monday as it put terrorism front and centre in the context of bilateral ties and reiterated its expectations to see the south Asian country do more against “externally-oriented terrorist groups”, Agencies report.
“We have expressed our concern over the fact that terrorist proxy groups continue to be able to enjoy safe haven in Pakistan. We are urging the government to do more to bring pressure to bear against these organisations externally-oriented terrorist groups,” Alice Wells, the head of South and Central Asian bureau at the US state department, told reporters.
Wells was asked about expectations regarding the Haqqani Network, an affiliate of Afghan Taliban that operates out of sanctuaries in Pakistan. But it was interesting that she broadened her reply to “externally-oriented terrorist groups” which would include Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, outfits that operate across the country’s eastern border against India.
“We welcome the words of Prime Minister Imran Khan when he discussed the importance of having peace on both sides of Pakistan’s borders,” Wells said in response to another question.
The Trump administration has been deeply sceptical of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts and the billions paid it has claimed as compensation and reimbursement for participating in them. It suspended $2 billion in security-related aid to Pakistan in frustration earlier this year and let relations slide.
Washington has been cool so far to the new government, having already expressed reservations about the fairness of the elections. The new prime minister has not yet been called by President Donald Trump, secretary of state Mike Pompeo or anyone senior in the administration.
Pompeo will visit Islamabad in September to meet Khan, on his way to New Delhi for the inaugural 2+2 ministerial. But that is the extent of the attention the United States is willing to accord to the new prime minister.
Khan has been vocal in his opposition for years to US-led counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan, especially strikes by remotely operated drones. Khan has also been critical of the US for tying aid payments to counter-terrorism and argued that it’s an unequal relationship. But he has not shown either inclination or plans to change it.
The US, at the same time, has not displayed a willingness to ease up pressure either, and on all fronts.
About Pakistan’s plans to seek an aid package from the International Monetary Fund to tide over a looming debt repayment crisis, Pompeo recently warned that Islamabad should be prevented from using that money, if the loan was approved, from paying off dues to China under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, a part of Beijing’s increasingly controversial and exploitative Belt and Road Initiative.
And the US Congress, which is key to the payment of aid to Pakistan, has been steadily cutting outlays in recent years and brought it down to $150 million in the defence spending legislation Trump signed into law recently. It also indicated, in the same bill, it had given up on Pakistan’s ability to fight terrorism, removing conditions that linked reimbursements to actions against the Haqqani Network.