Congress delinks LET from Coalition Support Fund certification

News Analysis |

The US Congress has removed the name of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) from the certification clause in the National Defence Authorisation Act 2018. The act now only requires the Secretary of Defense to certify whether or not Pakistan is taking steps to dismantle the Haqqani Network; a failure of which would result in non-payment of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF).

Last week, while authorizing the disbursement of $700 million in  CSF to Pakistan for the support it extends to US military operations in Afghanistan, conditioned the release of $350 million on certification from the Secretary of Defense, which included the assurances that Pakistan is taking actions against the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET).

The revised version has confined the scope of certification to just the Haqqani Network, an organization Pakistan is accused of hosting, financing, and abetting.

Also, Pakistan is required to arrest and/or eliminate Haqqani operatives.

In order for Pakistan to get the restricted amount of $350 million, the Secretary of Defense will have to certify that it is carrying out military operations that are effectively dispossessing the Haqqani Network from its sources of strength: territory, recruitment, and finance.

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The Secretary of Defense will also have to be sure that Pakistan is taking concrete steps to eliminate the dreaded splinter group. This would require Pakistan to coordinate with Afghanistan to restrict the movement of the network on the Af-Pak border. Also, Pakistan is required to arrest and/or eliminate Haqqani operatives.

The amendment in the provision shows the desire on part of Washington to singularly focus on Afghanistan, further amplifying the importance the US attaches to the Haqqani Network in its war efforts in Afghanistan. 

It is normal and expected given the saliency of India in the US regional strategy: India is the country that the US believes can counter China.

However, the revision in the provision can be attributed to an anticipated reaction of Islamabad on the inclusion of LET as a condition for CSF disbursement. The linkage of the LET with the Haqqani Network would have been seen as yet another act of US support for Delhi. Tensions between Pakistan and the US have not only festered because of the latter’s tirades but also due to efforts on its part of propping up India. Pakistan has time and again shown consternation and drawn red lines regarding India’s role in Afghanistan. The US wants active Indian involvement in Afghanistan. 

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However, the mere revision of the clause is unlikely to change the status of India in US’ overall strategy for the region.Despite officially maintaining neutrality in the simmering Kashmir dispute, the US has embraced India’s version of the valley as opposed to that of Pakistan. It is normal and expected given the saliency of India in the US regional strategy: India is the country that the US believes can counter China.

However, keen observers of the region are well-aware of Pakistan’s strategic thinkers’ line of argument that propping up India in Afghanistan will estrange Pakistan, something that the US cannot afford, especially given the mounting trouble it is facing in Afghanistan.

At a later stage, the US’ presence in Afghanistan could be used to mount an onslaught on its arch-nemesis: Iran. To this effect, the US warned Pakistan against growing closer ties with Tehran. 

Removing the name of the LET is ostensibly an effort to keep Islamabad engaged, especially as and when the security profile in Afghanistan is fast-becoming an insurmountable challenge for the US. While the US has been advised to elicit clear lessons from history, it is still hoping to turn the tables on the Taliban. Despite not being in control of more than 40% of Afghan territory, the US and Afghanistan attribute the resurgence of the Taliban to Pakistan.

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Despite this corrective measure, Pak-US ties are marred by an ever-widening trust deficit. There are plenty of questions that need to be answered.One that whether or not the US embraces the fact that military options have dried up. It also remains to be seen whether the US is using the country to forestall the incursions of Russia and China. At a later stage, the US’ presence in Afghanistan could be used to mount an onslaught on its arch-nemesis: Iran. To this effect, the US warned Pakistan against growing closer ties with Tehran. 

It would be intriguing to see how the geopolitical chessboard is played by all state and non-state actors in the region. It would certainly not be wrong to assert that not only regional rivalries but those in the Middle East and beyond will also impinge upon South Asia. How will the Sino-US Great Game and also the growing US-Iranian crisis affect South Asia? The answer to this question will go a long way in determining what happens in the near future. 

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