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Editorial

July 17, 2017

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A tough bill

A tough bill

The isolationist streak and perceived Islamophobia of US President Donald Trump had always made it likely that Pakistan would figure less prominently in his foreign policy than in that of his predecessors. He has had little to say about Pakistan and moved even more decisively in India’s direction. His priorities gel with those of the Republican Congress, which has long demanded that the US should get tougher on Pakistan. Now the House of Representatives has passed a defence bill that would make both civilian and military aid to Pakistan conditional on stopping its supposed support to the Haqqani Network and other militant groups. The US has never been able to prove any relationship between Pakistan and militant outfits but has long told us to do more to prevent them from operating in Afghanistan. This provision of the defence bill shows that the US, which is currently conducting a review of its policy in Afghanistan that is likely to call for more troops to be sent to the country, is once again pushing Pakistan because it fears its own forces may be attacked in Afghanistan. It has internalised Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s constant accusations of Pakistani perfidy and is now poised to act on them. That the defence bill also includes increased military cooperation with India shows just where US priorities now l

The House of Representatives bill still has a long way to go before it becomes law. The US Senate will debate and pass its own bill later this year, after which the two houses of Congress will try and reconcile their bills. If reconciliation is reached, both will then vote on a new, unified bill and send it to Trump for his signature. There are a number of procedural hurdles that will have to be overcome. Overall, the defence bill massively expands US military spending, in contravention of the 2011 sequester agreement reached by Republicans and Democrats to limit total government spending. The sequester will either have to be abandoned or spending cuts found elsewhere to pass the defence bill in its current iteration. The bad news for Pakistan is that the Senate has been increasingly tough on us too, with influential senator John McCain in particular talking about our alleged support for militant groups. Even if it doesn’t happen this year, Pakistan has to accept and account for the reality that it can no longer rely on aid from the US and that its transactional relationship with the country is no longer seen as necessary in Washington.

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