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Policy Expert Weighs In On U.S.-Pakistan Relations

Pakistani demonstrators shout anti-US slogans at a protest in the southwestern city of Quetta on January 4.
Pakistani demonstrators shout anti-US slogans at a protest in the southwestern city of Quetta on January 4.

Michael Kugelman is deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington. In an interview with Radio Mashaal, he assesses what lies ahead for relations between Islamabad and Washington after U.S. President Donald Trump said his country received “lies and deceit” after giving Pakistan more than $33 billion in assistance since 9/11.

RFE/RL: What kind of action does the United States want Pakistan to take as the country says its security forces are already taking across-the-board action against militant groups?

Michael Kugelman: It is unclear exactly what the U.S. is expecting Pakistan to do. But as I understand it, the U.S. wants Pakistan to essentially sever its [ties] to Haqqani network fighters, and it is also expecting that those individual Pakistan intelligence and military [personnel] especially known to have ties with groups should basically be sanctioned by Pakistan. The broader expectation is that Pakistan would simply stop dealing with terrorists targeting the United States in Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: The recent aid cut is mostly a decision by the White House. What is the mood on Capitol Hill?

Michael Kugelman
Michael Kugelman

Kugelman: The mood on Capitol Hill is much more hostile toward Pakistan. I am hearing a lot of criticism coming from Congress. There will be much more support than there used to be for the idea of an extended if not a permanent aid cut. And it was only yesterday [January 4] that Senator Rand Paul said he will be coming up with a bill for a ban on future aid to Pakistan.

RFE/RL: What about Pakistan's status as a non-Nato U.S. ally?

Kugelman: This is one of the possible measures that I heard the U.S. may take next. If you look at the U.S. policy tool kit, there are several things they could do to tighten screws more. And certainly revoking the non-NATO ally status could be on the table. I don't know if that is imminent, [but] I certainly think it’s a possibility.

RFE/RL: Pakistan’s finance minister recently said the "aid cut will not affect us." What could be other possible measures on the table with the United States if the aid cut does not work and Pakistan refuses to comply?

Kugelman: I think the finance minister is true and his aid statement is not just bravado. Pakistan has gone without U.S. aid before. It can look to the Chinese and Saudis. There are many other options [for] the U.S.; they can revoke the non-NATO ally status; there is the possibility of expanding the drone war into Balochistan and other places where top U.S. terrorist targets are located; it could also involve placing sanctions on individual Pakistani military and intelligence officials.

RFE/RL: What future do you see for U.S.-Pakistan relations?

Kugelman: It depends on how each country responds to this aid cut. If Pakistan comes out with angry statements, the relationship would settle into a typical uneasy status of coexistence. If Pakistan has to retaliate with closing the NATO supply routes, that could make things worse. More importantly, the U.S. itself takes additional measures such as those I mentioned before. Pakistan would definitely retaliate to those and there could be a really big crisis. I don't think the relationship is going to fall apart. But much more depends on how each side responds in the coming days and weeks and what additional measures would be taken by the U.S., and I think that would help determine the trajectory.