The United States has suspended the military and educational training of scores of Pakistani officers, a move that could negatively affect more than a decade of bilateral military relations between Washington and Islamabad.
A US State Department spokesperson said on Friday the effective suspension of Pakistan from the US government’s International Military Education and Training program (IMET) would close off places that had been set aside for 66 Pakistani officers this year.
The spokesman added that the places would either be unfilled or given to officers from other countries.
Pakistani officers have reportedly been excluded from programs at the War College, the US army’s premier school for foreign officers, in the upcoming academic year as well as training courses at the US Naval War College and Naval Staff College.
The State Department official said the IMET cancellations were valued at $2.41 million and at least two other programs had also been affected following the US decision.
It remains unclear what level of military cooperation still continues outside the IMET program between top US and Pakistani military chiefs.
The Pentagon and the Pakistani military declined to comment directly on the Trump administration’s decision, but officials from both countries privately criticized the move.
US officials expressed concern that the move could undermine a key trust-building measure between the two sides. Pakistani officials, for their part, warned the decision could push their military to further look to China or Russia for training.
Calling the move “very short-sighted and myopic,” Dan Feldman, a former US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said, “This will have lasting negative impacts limiting the bilateral relationship well into the future.
Earlier this year, the US president Donald Trump threatened to cut off foreign aid to Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of harboring extremists.
Trump said in his first tweet of 2018 that Washington had “foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years,” and the country had rewarded the past US aid with “nothing but lies & deceit.”
Pakistan later summoned David Hale – the US ambassador to Pakistan – over Trump’s controversial remarks.
Washington has long accused Islamabad of allowing militants and terrorist groups to operate relatively freely in Pakistan’s porous border regions to carry out operations in neighboring Afghanistan.
The US claims that Afghan Taliban militants and their allied Haqqani network that target American troops in Afghanistan are allowed to shelter on Pakistani soil.
Islamabad, however, denies the accusations, saying Washington is overlooking Pakistan’s sacrifices in its fight against terrorism. It further rejects allegations that it sponsors Taliban militants battling US forces in neighboring Afghanistan, and insists that Islamabad is doing all it can to combat regional militancy.