US Congress has recently announced a change in the National Defence Authorisation Act 2018, NDAA 18, that no longer requires US Secretary of Defence to certify that Pakistan has used military operations to quell the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Haqqani network. The new version of the NDAA18 requires Pakistan to focus on quashing the Haqqani Network.
The omission of LeT is seen as symbolic shift in the US-Pak relationship. It shows that both countries understand that getting significant results in the Afghan war is only possible through a singularity of focus. Pakistan’s military has repeatedly ensured its ally how the stability of Afghanistan is in the best interest of the country, and that they are doing their utmost in counterterrorism operations and stopping cross border attacks, as the US Department of Defence (DOD) conditions imply.
The condition of the US Defence Minister certification was put in place as a mechanism for the release of the Coalition Support funds (CSF) to Pakistan in the recent years. This largely happened as the relationship started straining and especially after the capture of Osama bin Laden from Pakistani soil. The US Congress came under pressure to curtail its financial support for an untrustworthy ally.
The relationship between the two countries was very different in the post-2011 period, as Pakistan got $3.1 million in Security assistance benefits and aid as a Non-NATO ally. Generally the US aid to Pakistan comes as economic aid, security aid and funding. In Obama years the benefits and the grants shrank visibly. Then the Non-NATO ally status was taken away. In the recent Trump year Pakistan witnessed even a rescinding of over $3 million military aid because the Department of Defence could not certify in Pakistan’s favour.
Apparently, various think tanks are advising US to take a more conservative and harsh approach with Islamabad. They believe that the promise of military supplies could nudge Pakistan in the right direction. Pakistan’s military is waiting for eight F-16s that were blocked by the US Congress and the AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters that are to arrive next year to help with the Afghan mission.
Pakistan’s army is showing an unflinching yet friendly resolve. Afghan peace remains in the best interest for both the countries. In terms of territorial proximity, knowledge and experience of the terrain, no war in Afghanistan can be won without Pakistani cooperation.
Washington will be wise to revisit its rhetoric towards Pakistan. Pakistan weathered its worst US sanction post nuclear tests in 1998 and turned to China for help when the arms cuts were put in place. United States has to find a definitive solution for Afghan peace so that it can pave the way for Iraq and the Middle Eastern peace. They cannot do that by losing friends.