On January 4, the United States announced the suspension of nearly all security-related assistance to Pakistan until Islamabad could prove its commitment to fighting terrorism and cut its ties with militant groups such as the Taliban. This decision came just days after U.S. President Donald Trump had accused Pakistan, on Twitter, of giving “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.” Pakistani leaders responded with a familiar refrain, claiming to have moved against all militant groups without distinction and pointing to the enormous costs in terms of money (over $120 billion) and lives (nearly 80,000 civilian and military dead) sustained by Pakistan in the fight against terrorism since 2001.
For Trump, it may feel good to vent his frustrations about Pakistan, especially now that his administration is desperate to salvage something from the United States’ prolonged and losing conflict in Afghanistan. These new sanctions, however, are unlikely to influence Pakistani behavior, which is rooted in realities on the ground that the United States has little ability to change.
Pakistan is a complicated country in a tough neighborhood. Its main strategic concerns are to contain the surging power of its neighbor and rival, India, and to combat Islamist militancy inside its own borders—in particular, it wishes to fight the Pakistani Taliban, which now operates from sanctuaries in Afghanistan. Pakistan launched a military operation in 2014 to clear the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of insurgents, including the Pakistani Taliban, many of whom escaped across the border into Afghanistan. Pakistan, however, is reluctant to please the United States, which it considers a distant and fickle ally, by moving against the leadership of the Afghan Taliban. The United States, for its part, regards Pakistan as a duplicitous partner that is willing to take U.S. funds but unwilling to cut ties with militant groups or eject Afghan Taliban leaders, particularly those affiliated with the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based faction that has orchestrated high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul. Pakistan is reluctant to please the United States,
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