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Pentagon cancels $300m aid to Pakistan amid growing tension over militant havens

The US has refused to pay $300m in military aid to Pakistan because it has deemed that the south Asian country is not doing enough to tackle terrorism, the Pentagon has announced.

A spokesman for the Department of Defense said on Friday that the US would withhold a final tranche of funds that would have been paid to Islamabad as part of an arrangement between the two countries.

Washington has decided to withhold military aid before but Friday’s announcement is the first concrete indication of the willingness of the Trump administration to take a tough stance towards Pakistan.

Adam Stump, a Pentagon spokesperson, said: “The funds could not be released to the government of Pakistan at this time because the [defence] secretary could not certify that Pakistan has taken sufficient action against the Haqqani Network.” The Haqqani network is a group of militants based around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border which has been blamed for attacks on western and Afghan forces.

A Pakistani foreign ministry official on Friday described the decision as “very short sighted”, but said “the decision does not end scope for future co-operation”. He told the Financial Times: ”The US should realise that without Pakistan’s help, Afghanistan cannot be stabilised.”

The US has already paid $550m in military aid to Pakistan for 2016, but the remaining $350m was contingent on the Department of Defense deciding that Pakistan had done enough to tackle extremist militants within its borders.

Mr Stump said $300m of that had already been cancelled by Congress as part of a wider appropriations act, though the decision had not been publicised. He added that James Mattis, the defence secretary, had decided to hold back the final $50m.

Last year, the Obama administration made a similar decision, declining to pay $300m in military aid for the same reason.

The announcement comes while the White House deliberates on a broader strategy for the region, which will include a decision on whether or not to commit thousands more troops to Afghanistan.

The security situation in Afghanistan has badly deteriorated in recent months, and in May at least 80 people died in Kabul’s worst bomb attack since the 2001 invasion.

Some in Washington are predicting Mr Trump’s administration will take a harder line towards Islamabad than its predecessors. Mr Trump has previously criticised Pakistan for harbouring terrorists, calling on Islamabad in 2012 to apologise for “providing a safe sanctuary to Osama bin Laden for six years”.

Mr Stump said the decision on aid “does not prejudge the conclusions of the White House review of South Asia strategy, which is still ongoing”.

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