The United States is withholding a $255 million military aid payment from Pakistan until it cracks down on what President Donald Trump has called "safe havens" for anti-Afghanistan militant groups, officials said.
State Department officials said on August 31 that the funds won't be released from an escrow account until the United States sees that Pakistan is moving against the Afghan Taliban and allied groups like the Haqqani network that U.S. intelligence agencies say have resided for years within Pakistan's borders.
Pakistan has denied that it harbors terrorists and has said the United States is using Islamabad as a "scapegoat" for its own failure to win the 16-year war in Afghanistan.
The new U.S. stance toward Pakistan prompted a protest resolution in the Pakistani parliament this week as well as anti-U.S. protests in the streets that Pakistani police had to disperse using tear gas.
In announcing the new strategy last week, Trump said "we have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting... That will have to change."
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the time that the administration was considering curtailing aid, severing Pakistan's status as a major non-NATO ally, and even hitting Islamabad for the first time with sanctions, unless it tackles anti-Afghan militant groups within its borders.
"We’re going to be conditioning our support for Pakistan and our relationship with them on them delivering results in this area,” Tillerson said.
To Pakistan's alarm, Trump also floated the possibility of inviting India — Pakistan's archrival — to get more involved in Afghanistan unless Pakistan is more cooperative.
The administration's notification to Congress of an indefinite "pause" in installments on a $1.1 billion military assistance package for Pakistan represented the administration's first step to make good on those promised measures.
The United States has sought before to use aid to Pakistan as well as U.S. weapons sales as leverage to secure Islamabad's cooperation on Afghanistan.
Pakistan maintains that it already is doing everything it can to eliminate terrorists in the country, and has been more successful at doing so than its next-door neighbor, Afghanistan, even with the help of thousands of NATO and U.S. troops.
Moreover, Pakistan has complained that the United States does not appreciate the sacrifices Islamabad has made by joining the U.S. antiterror campaign, which Islamabad said has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers.
With reporting by AP and New York Times