The proposed 2019 US aid to Pakistan is a pittance compared to the billions that Islamabad once bilked Washington for as a purported partner in the fight for terrorism, a bluff that President Trump called out in a New Year’s Day tweet. But even the $351 million laid out for 2019 – about $10 million less than 2018 allotment — is significant considering US officials have clarified the suspended amount is still on the table and Pakistan can reclaim it if it aligns itself with US goals in the region.
The Budget document requests $256 million for Pakistan in economic and other assistance "to help increase stability, promote economic growth, and create opportunities for US businesses." In addition, the Budget requests $80 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to enhance Pakistan’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency capabilities, "contingent on Pakistan taking appropriate action to expand cooperation in areas where US-Pakistan interests converge and to address areas of divergence, in line with the Administration’s South Asia strategy."
Although the budget document indicated only $336 million aid for Pakistan, Hari Sastry, Director of the Office of US Foreign Assistance Resources who manages the Department of State and USAID foreign assistance budget, put the overall assistance at $351 million. "We only have funded about 10 of our critical partners (with FMF), so this shows the importance of Pakistan as a major security partner for us," Sastry said at a briefing on the budget.
"The Budget document also requests more than $5 billion for continued US training and assistance for the Afghan security forces, money that would "enable US forces to conduct counterterrorism operations to ensure that the region cannot be used by jihadist terrorist groups to plot transnational attacks against the US homeland, citizens overseas, or allies and partners."
The budget document shows Afghanistan now gets three times the civilian aid earmarked for Pakistan. "The more than $630 million for civilian assistance supports the President’s new strategy to empower the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future. In addition, the Budget strengthens and sustains improvements in education, health, governance, and other sectors that are essential for securing a stable and prosperous Afghanistan," the document said.
Sastry also explained that in support of the Trump administration’s new policies in the Indo-Pacific region, there was a 6.5 per cent increase in funding from the 2018 budget to ensure that "the key pillars of a free, open, secure East Asia with territorial sovereignty," is maintained. Overall, the US defense budget sees about a 10 per cent bump in spending: $686 billion for 2019, up from $612 billion in 2018.
US aid to India is so negligible — almost non-existent — that it did not even find a mention in the budget document.
Pakistan has scornfully dismissed US aid as chump change and said it can do without it. But the nearly $2 billion still on the table is pushing some of the country’s elites and intellectuals, with deep ties to the US and disdainful of promised Chinese support, to argue for revising its regional policies.
In a withering New Year's Day tweet, President Trump had said "The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan with little help. No more!"
But apparently there is more if Islamabad changes course, despite Trump’s known antipathy for the country. As far back as 2012, he had tweeted, "When will Pakistan apologize to us for providing safe sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden for 6 years?! Some 'ally!"'