The United States government will not certify Pakistan’s counter-terrorism operations in North Waziristan over recent months as adequately damaging to the Haqqani network, a U.S.-designated terror group. The U.S. Department of Defense has reportedly notified the Pakistani embassy in Washington of the development, according to a report by Dawn. The non-certification of the Pakistani counter-terror campaign, known as Operation Zarb-e-Azb, will block the release of a new tranche of U.S. financial assistance for the Pakistani military from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). CSF support had been extended for a year with a specific stipulation that the U.S. Department of Defense would certify the effectiveness of Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan against the Haqqani network.
The development would drive a major wedge between the United States and Pakistan, two allies who have grown apart over their divergent interests and priorities in stabilizing the broader Afghan-Pakistan border. Beyond the financial implications of the blocked CSF tranche, the development will deal Islamabad a politically damaging blow. As the Dawn report notes, given the recent deterioration in ties with Kabul amid allegations from the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, that Pakistani has inadequately reigned in cross-border terrorists, including militants affiliated with the Haqqani network, the U.S. government’s decision to withhold certification vindicate Afghan perceptions.
The suspension of the next CSF tranche, once confirmed, will certainly sour U.S.-Pakistan ties, which haven’t been quite normal since 2011, when the United States’ most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, was killed by U.S. commandos in a raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan. With Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s scheduled state visit planned for October, Washington will have some time to work out their differences. The extent to which the CSF tranche suspension will affect Pakistan’s defense spending is unclear—reports earlier this year suggested that Islamabad had counted “payment from the United States’ coalition support fund for coalition forces in Afghanistan who are using Pakistani territory for logistic support” as part of its overall budget. Pakistan received last month’s tranche of $337 million from the United States, though suspension now will mean Islamabad will fall short of receiving the expected $1.5 billion in CSF aid for the current fiscal year.
In a coincidence of timing, reports that the U.S. government would withhold certification of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism operations came as Pakistan and Russia concluded a major defense deal for the sale of four Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters. As I noted last year, Russia lifted its self-imposed arms embargo on weapons deliveries to Pakistan, taking advantage, in part, of Islamabad’s recognition of souring ties with the United States and Moscow’s own search for new defense customers. The Mi-35 deal could lead to a broader Pakistan-Russia defense relationship but there will be some constraints for the two sides as they seek to expand cooperation, particularly Russia’s significantly broader defense commercial relationship with India.