New Delhi and Washington have been in close touch over the decision, and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar met with U.S. Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster early on Friday, hours after the U.S. administration announced that it would suspend all its security assistance to Pakistan unless it acts against terror groups targeting Afghanistan, as a part of its “South Asia strategy.”
“It is a welcome first step. [We] hope it will get Rawalpindi (Pakistan’s military) thinking,” a senior official told The Hindu, although the government issued no formal reaction to the development.
India had issued statements welcoming the U.S.’s South Asia strategy announced by President Donald Trump in August, and its new National Security Strategy issued in December, both of which called on Pakistan to take action against terror safe havens that target U.S. troops in Afghanistan, or face consequences. The MEA’s decision not to issue any statement on Friday, however, was attributed to several reasons.
Firstly, the U.S. announcement did not come as a surprise, as it came three months after the Trump administration notified the U.S. Congress that it would not disburse the 2016 tranche of its Foreign Military Funding (FMF) of $255 million. On January 1, the U.S. President made it clear that the action was imminent after he accused Pakistan of “lies and deceit” on the issue and threatened that the U.S. would continue to fund Pakistan “No More!”
Secondly, while officials hailed the move, it doesn’t at present include any specific words for groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad that target India. Asked specifically if the U.S. action related to the release of LeT chief Hafiz Saeed from house arrest, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Thursday that while the U.S. had expressed concern over the release, “To my knowledge, that has nothing to do with that.” As a result, it is understood India would rather not speak about what is essentially a bilateral action between U.S. and Pakistan, even as it strengthens its own counter-terrorism cooperation with the US. Last month’s India-U.S. counterterrorism designations dialogue was one such new effort.
Finally, experts say there is some scepticism about whether the U.S. action will effect the desired reaction from Pakistan, if it relates only to the military funding of about $255 million in (FMF) and possible $900 more in Coalition Support Funding (CSF), without further action.
In 1981, President Zia-ul-Haq had famously referred to a U.S. offer of $250 million for Afghan refugees as “peanuts”, said former Ambassador to Afghanistan and Secretary in the MEA, Amar Sinha, adding “If the figure was peanuts nearly four decades ago, think of what it would mean today.”
According to Mr. Sinha and other former diplomats, the U.S. move to cut aid to Pakistan on the issue of its support to terror has been made in the 1970s, 1990s, and more recently by the Obama administration in 2011 as well.
“Mr. Trump has shown he is different in many ways,” said Arvind Gupta, former Deputy NSA and director of think-tank Vivekananda International Foundation. “But follow-up action from the U.S. will have to be seen as well. The U.S.’s dependence on Pakistan for assistance in its operations in Afghanistan has not completely ended yet.”