ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and the United States remained at odds over Islamabad's degree of commitment to rooting out violent extremists and their sources of financing, following a candid exchange between both sides in Islamabad this week.
While the U.S. continued to push Pakistan to take action against groups it says operate out of the country against neighboring Afghanistan and India, Pakistan criticized the U.S. for recent actions that Islamabad said undermined that very objective.
“I conveyed to her that the U.S. has done a great disservice to our fight against extremism,” Pakistan’s interior minister, Ahsan Iqbal, said about his meeting with Lisa Curtis, the U.S. National Security Council’s senior director for South and Central Asia. She was on a two-day visit to Islamabad that ended Tuesday.
Iqbal was complaining about the recent U.S. push to list Pakistan as a country that does not have adequate mechanisms to control terrorism financing.
As a result of this push, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global watchdog that met in Paris last week, is expected to add Pakistan to its gray list in June. This could hurt Pakistan’s already flailing economy by adding scrutiny to its financial transactions and increasing its costs of doing business internationally.
Iqbal said the move linked Pakistan’s fight against extremism to “the U.S. and Western countries, giving extremist groups a narrative that they are being targeted on external pressure.”
He also said the economic impact of the FATF decision would shrink the budgetary resources for the ongoing security operations in the country.
The FATF move is seen as a way for the U.S. to push Pakistan to change its behavior toward regional security issues, particularly Afghanistan. The U.S. policy for South Asia, which was announced by President Donald Trump in August of last year, promised to use all instruments of American power, including economic, to get a desired outcome in the region.
‘Concern about ongoing deficiencies’
Curtis reinforced that message in her meetings this week.
“Ms. Curtis urged the government of Pakistan to address the continuing presence of the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups within its territory, and reiterated the international community’s long-standing concern about ongoing deficiencies in Pakistan’s implementation of its anti-money laundering/counterterrorism finance regime,” said a press release issued by the U.S. embassy in Islamabad.
Iqbal said the pressure was unlikely to make a difference.
“We have lived through autumn in Pak-U.S. relations many times before. This will also pass,” he said.
Still, both sides seemed to want to work past their differences.
The embassy press release said the U.S. “seeks to move toward a new relationship with Pakistan, based on a shared commitment to defeat all terrorist groups that threaten regional stability and security, as well as on a shared vision of a peaceful future for Afghanistan.”
In his last briefing, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman, Mohammad Faisal, said his country was trying to find common ground to work with the U.S.
Bilateral relations have been tense since the announcement of the South Asia policy. U.S. officials blame Pakistan for the instability in Afghanistan, saying Pakistan provides havens to militants who attack NATO and Afghan forces across the border.
Many in Pakistan believe the U.S. does not understand its security concerns vis-a-vis its regional rival India, making cooperation difficult. In his policy address, Trump urged India to play a greater role in Afghanistan, a move that was met with alarm in Islamabad.
“The U.S. must have a security framework for the region that addresses legitimate security concerns of both Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Iqbal maintained.
U.S. officials say Pakistan’s concerns are overblown.