US to continue military training, Pakistan Senate panel told

ISLAMABAD (Dawn/ANN Desk) - The Trump administration announced earlier this month that it is suspending its entire security assistance to Pakistan until it proves its commitment to fight all terrorist groups operating in the region.

The United States has conveyed to Pakistan that the military training component of the aid would continue despite suspension of the security assistance package.

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua informed the Senate’s foreign affairs committee on Wednesday that the US would continue funding the aid components that support their national interest, including the International Military Education and Training (IMET) part.

The Trump administration announced earlier this month that it is suspending its entire security assistance to Pakistan until it proves its commitment to fight all terrorist groups operating in the region.

The IMET programme, which focuses on military education, is meant to establish a rapport between the US military and the recipient country’s military for building alliances for the future. Under this programme, Pakistan Army officers have been trained in the US at a cost of US$52 million over the past 15 years and an allocation of another US$4 million has been made for the current year.

The IMET programme exemption is meant to continue contacts with future military leaders. One of the main lessons learnt by the US from the period when nuclear proliferation-related sanctions under the Pressler Amendment went into force in 1990 and, among others, training programmes were ended, was that such actions, besides depriving Pakistan of wanted military equipment, reduced the US interaction with Pakistani military officers in the 1990s. That break impeded their efforts for rebuilding rapport after 9/11.

While the IMET would continue, the US has frozen the aid provided under the programmes that are more important to Pakistan, particularly the Foreign Military Financing (FMF). The recipients of FMF can use the funds under this programme for procurement of defence hardware produced by the US.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, while briefing the lawmakers on the current state of Pak-US relations, said the relationship was not going “very smooth” and problems were persisting.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells concluded on Tuesday her two-day trip to Pakistan renewing the demand for clearing Pakistani territory of alleged terror sanctuaries. Earlier, US Centcom chief Gen Joseph Votel had reached out to Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa for calming the frayed nerves at the General Headquarters.

The foreign minister said the situation remained the same and there was no real shift in the US position so far.

He said Pakistan was trying to maintain a balance in its relationship with the US and had made it clear that it could live without aid but would not compromise on national integrity.

Asif said the US was trying to shift the blame to Pakistan for its failures in Afghanistan. “We have to stand up to those who accuse us of harbouring terrorists,” he remarked.

The accusations, he maintained, became meaningless without facilitating the repatriation of Afghan refugees and helping with fencing for checking unauthorised border crossings. Without doing these two things, he warned, the security situation would not improve much.

Senator Farhatullah Babar asked if the antiterrorism fatwa declaring private jihad as well as suicide bombings un-Islamic also covered the so-called jihad across the national boundaries.

The absence of the words “across the national borders” in the fatwa unequivocally rejecting private jihad created space for some jihadists, he maintained, and asked the minister whether the Foreign Office was on board in the exercise leading to the formulation of fatwa.

Responding to Babar, the foreign minister said that it was a matter of interpretation.

Senator Babar then said that some undeclared moves seemed afoot to mainstream militant organisations without taking parliament on board and asked whether the FO was aware of any such move. He said that the soft treatment meted out to former Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan, bail of Maulana Soofi Mohammad, shielding Maulana Masood Azhar from UN sanctions and lately the militant organisations entering into electoral politics pointed towards these undeclared moves.

Asif said that the FO was not aware of any move to mainstream militant organisations in the country.

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