WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump pressed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday to help “extricate” the U.S. from its war in Afghanistan, dangling the restoration of American aid and other economic incentives.
Since the U.S. suspended $1.3 billion in aid to the economically ailing country in early 2018, the two sides seemed poised for a reset this week. The two leaders suggested they wanted stronger ties on security and trade — and, according to Trump, that the aid might be restored.
“All of that money can come back, depending on what we work out,” Trump told reporters ahead of a meeting between the two leaders at the White House on Monday.
Pakistan may, in the coming days, help end the Taliban’s reluctance to deal directly with the Afghan government, Khan said. The prime minister said he never believed there would be a military solution and that a peace deal appeared closer than ever.
“Pakistan needs stability,” Khan said. “We have 15 years of fighting this war on terror, over 70,000 Pakistani casualties, over $150 billion lost to the economy. ... We desperately want peace, and I am happy President Trump has pushed this forward.”
Author, analyst and former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, believes Pakistan would be interested in a resumption of military aid, though the government understands that Trump’s view of international relations is transactional.
Despite diversifying its supplier portfolio, Pakistan has important American-made equipment in service and, according to Pakistan analyst Kamal Alam, needs military-specific aid, notably AH-1Z helicopter gunships and special operations equipment to meet counterinsurgency needs.
Though it is fencing the Afghan-Pakistan border to stymie infiltration, the Pakistani military knows American equipment would make this effort more effective, and this may be the primary area of focus for resumed military aid.
The military would also like to replace its P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, potentially with the Boeing-made P-8A Poseidon.
Pakistan is also seeking U.S. clearance for RIM-116 missile systems, which would serve as the primary air-defense system for the country’s Ada-class corvettes designed by Turkey. Pakistan “needs a good working relationship with the U.S., regardless of whether it is getting any aid,” Cloughley noted.
Of the rocky relationship between Washington and Islamabad, Trump said Pakistan’s previous leaders did not respect the U.S. or his predecessors in office — presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Trump assessed the relationship was on the upswing under himself and Khan, a former sports star who took office in August.
“Pakistan was not doing anything for us, they were really, I think, subversive. They were going against us,” Trump said.
The U.S. announced in January 2018 that it was suspending $900 million of security aid to Pakistan for failing to act against Taliban militants. That included $255 million for Pakistani purchases of American military equipment.
As of Monday morning, the decision remained in effect. But according to a U.S. State Department official, the Trump administration is constantly evaluating the policy, as the president said he might resume aid if warranted by Pakistan’s actions. Trump is also willing to approve specific exceptions to the suspension for programs determined to be in the United States’ national security interest.
Historically, these security assistance programs with Pakistan supported projects for the Pakistan Army, Air Force and Navy, as well as accountability monitoring of American equipment. Those projects were developed with the Pakistani military to support its counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and self-defense requirements, the official said.
Over the past 15 years, Pakistan received roughly $15 billion in Coalition Support Funds meant to reimburse support for U.S. operations; roughly $4 billion in Foreign Military Financing funds used to purchase American equipment; about $1.4 billion in the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund to build Pakistan’s counterinsurgency capability; and approximately $52 million in International Military Education and Training funds.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.