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US: No Decision on Blocking Military Aid to Pakistan

FILE - Insurgents suspected of being from the Haqqani network are presented to the media at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) headquarters in Kabul May 30, 2013.

The Obama administration says it has not yet made a decision to block the next military aid disbursement to Pakistan, amid media reports the payment is being withheld due to lack of progress in fighting the Haqqani network.

“No decision has been made regarding certification requirements,” according to Pentagon spokesman Major Roger Cabiness.

Pakistani media had reported Thursday that the administration had decided not to certify to Congress that the Pakistani military’s counter terrorism offensive in the country’s north had damaged the Haqqani network.

Without this certification, the next payment of Coalition Support Funds to Pakistan would get suspended. This is the money reimbursed to Pakistan for actions that help the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

The Haqqani network — declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department — is one of the deadliest groups under the umbrella of the Afghan Taliban.

A Pentagon spokesman said that they were discussing with Pakistan how to best support the country’s fight against terrorism.

“We strongly support Pakistani counterterrorism efforts and their commitment to combat all terrorists and ensure that militant groups are not able to maintain safe havens in Pakistan,” the spokesman added.

Moeed Yusuf, director of South Asia programs at the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace said that the signal the U.S. is trying to send to Pakistan is that “even though things are much better than before but everything is not okay.”

Irritants such as these, Yusuf added, will keep coming up and both sides will have to work through them.

Zarb-e-Azb operation

Qazi Khalilullah, Pakistan foreign office spokesman, acknowledged Pakistan is discussing the issue with the United States, but avoided answering direct questions about the discussion. Instead, he repeated what Pakistan has been saying since the start of the military operation.

“I wish to reiterate that under the ongoing military operation Zarb-e-Azb, action is being taken across the board against all enemies of Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said Khalilullah.

Zarb-e-Azb has targeted militant groups in the North Waziristan region along the Afghan border. Pakistan’s military claims it has killed more than 150 terrorists in North Waziristan since Sunday during the operation.

U.S. and Afghan officials have long alleged the Haqqani network has received covert support from Pakistan’s spy agency.

Earlier this month, the U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, spoke on the issue at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Pakistan over the years has probably not done enough to be able to help us get after the Haqqani threat,” Campbell said. He added Pakistan is probably afraid to pressure the Haqqanis too much.

“I think as they look at it they have a lot of other issues they’ve got to deal with inside of Pakistan, and they don’t want Haqqani to turn on them.”

A U.S. decision to withhold the military aid would damage Pakistan’s claims it takes action against all terrorist groups without prejudice. It would also give credence to Afghan claims Pakistan provides safe haven to militants.

Following several violent attacks in Kabul and surrounding areas during the past few weeks, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, lashed out at Pakistan.

“Pakistan still remains a venue and ground for gatherings from which mercenaries send us messages of war,” Ghani said. “The incidents of the past two months in general and the recent days in particular show that the suicide training camps and the bomb-making facilities used to target and murder our innocent people still operate, as in the past, in Pakistan.”

Mullah Omar

The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan warmed after the election of President Ashraf Ghani, but has seen a sudden decline since news broke last month that the Afghan Taliban’s reclusive leader Mullah Omar had died in 2013 in a Karachi hospital. Pakistan denies Omar died in Pakistan.

News of Mullah Omar’s death surfaced a day before Pakistan was to host a second round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban, which pulled out of the dialogue and increased attacks in Afghanistan.

When the Afghan Taliban announced their new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, they said the head of the Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, has been appointed one of his two deputies.

But Pakistan insists the peace talks are not dead.

“Our efforts are that whichever leadership [of the Taliban] emerges that leadership continues with the process of peace and reconciliation with the Afghan government, so that lasting peace can be established in the region,” Pakistan Defense Minister Khwaja Asif said earlier this month.

Since then, Pakistan and Afghanistan have leveled allegations of cross border firing at each other’s troops and called in each other’s ambassadors to lodge protests.