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Trump administration to withhold $255 million aid to Pakistan

31 December, 2017

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NEW YORK: The Trump administration is considering withholding $255 million in aid to Pakistan over, what it claims, is Islamabad’s refusal to provide access to a captured Haqqani network operative, a New York Times report has claimed.

When Pakistani forces freed a Canadian-American family this fall held captive by militants, they also captured one of the abductors. United States officials saw a potential windfall: He was a member of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network who could perhaps provide valuable information about at least one other American hostage. The Americans demanded access to the man, but Pakistani officials rejected those requests, the latest disagreement in the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between the countries. Now, the Trump administration is strongly considering whether to withhold $255 million in aid that it had delayed sending to Islamabad, according to American officials, as a show of dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s broader intransigence toward confronting the terrorist networks that operate there.

The administration’s internal debate over whether to deny Pakistan the money is a test of whether President Trump will deliver on his threat to punish Islamabad for failing to cooperate on counterterrorism operations. Relations between the United States and Pakistan, long vital for both, have chilled steadily since the president declared over the summer that Pakistan “gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror.”

The United States, which has provided Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid since 2002, said in August that it was withholding the $255 million until Pakistan did more to crack down on internal terrorist groups. Senior administration officials met this month to decide what to do about the money, and American officials said a final decision could be made in the coming weeks.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive discussions, did not detail what conditions Pakistan would have to meet to receive the aid. It was not clear how the United States found out about the militant’s arrest, but an American drone had been monitoring the kidnappers as they moved deeper into Pakistan. Caitlan Coleman, an American, and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, were freed along with their children in an October raid after five years in captivity. Pakistani troops confronted Haqqani militants as they ferried the family across the tribal lands of northwest Pakistan. A State Department official said Pakistan’s actions will ultimately determine the course of “security assistance in the future.”

The official said conversations with Pakistan are continuing and declined to provide further comment. American officials are eager to learn what the militant knows about Kevin King, an American university professor who was kidnapped along with Timothy Weeks, an Australian citizen, in August 2016. King is believed to be alive but ill and American officials are hopeful that he and Weeks might be released. Another American, Paul Overby, vanished in 2014 in Afghanistan. Overby was trying to interview the leader of the Haqqani network when he disappeared. Gen Joseph L Votel, the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, which oversees Pakistan and Afghanistan, declined to provide any details on the Haqqani operative who was seized other than to say he was “probably pretty important” and that any militants involved in hostage-taking were “significant.”

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