FACT CHECK: Has The US Paid Pakistan ‘Billions And Billions’ While It Harbored Terrorists?

Kush Desai | Fact Check Reporter

President Donald Trump claimed that the U.S. has “been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, [while] at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting” in a speech Monday

Trump continued criticizing Pakistan for providing “safe haven” to terror groups during the speech. Trump’s speech outlined his administration’s new policy for the war on terror in Afghanistan; a reevaluation of the U.S.’s relationship with Pakistan, as well as its neighbor and rival India, was a key pillar of the strategy Trump outlined.

Verdict: True

Pakistan has never officially admitted to consciously “housing” or supporting terror groups. Investigations of previous terrorist attacks and public statements by Pakistani government officials, however, reveal that Pakistani government bodies and agents have harbored and supported terror groups – all while the U.S. has indeed provided “billions and billions” in military and civilian aid to the country.

Fact Check:

Pakistan has routinely denied being involved with or supporting terrorism. It has never officially admitted to an institutional policy of abetting radical Islamic terrorism, but evidence on the ground and a domestic and international consensus say otherwise.

A year after the brutal November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the FBI arrested a man named David Headley for involvement in the attacks. Headley, born Daood Gilani to an American mother and Pakistani father, conducted multiple surveillance missions in Mumbai for the 2008 attacks and in Copenhagen for a planned Charlie Hebdo-style attack on a Danish newspaper, all using his U.S. passport as cover.

A 2010 report by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) – after the NIA was granted permission to interview Headley in the U.S. – revealed the extent of Pakistani involvement in the gruesome Mumbai attacks that left over 170 dead.

Headley explained to Indian investigators and the FBI how “every important member of LeT [the Pakistani-based terror group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks] is handled by one or more ISI officials.” The “ISI,” or Inter-Services Intelligence, is Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Headley admitted to having two ISI handlers himself and also confessed having knowledge of what the report described as joint “LeT / ISI safe houses.”

Headley had also confessed direct involvement of the Pakistani military in the LeT and 2008 terrorist attacks. Headley recalled to investigators that one of his LeT colleagues “visited several Pakistan army installations” and how he personally believed that the boat used by the LeT extremists to penetrate Mumbai for their operation was “from the Pakistani navy.”

A few months later, Pervez Musharraf – a former high-ranking Pakistani general and exiled Pakistani president – echoed these themes of Pakistan’s official support of and involvement with terrorism.

In an October 2010 interview with Musharraf, Der Spiegel – a German weekly news magazine – asked Musharraf why Pakistan formed “militant underground groups,” or terrorist camps, to combat India. Musharraf confirmed the groups’ existence and admitted that the Pakistani government “turned a blind eye because [it] wanted India to discuss Kashmir [a region disputed between India and Pakistan].”

When confronted by Spiegel about Pakistani security forces training terrorists, Musharraf responded by blaming “The West” for “ignoring” tensions over Kashmir. Spiegel asked if that gave Pakistan “the right to train underground fighters.” Musharraf responded in the affirmative: “Yes, it is the right of any country to promote its own interests when India is not prepared to discuss Kashmir… [or] resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner.”

Headley’s or Musharraf’s statements are only two examples in a long list of evidence linking the Pakistani government and Pakistani officials to terrorism. In the absence of official Pakistani acknowledgment, however, these statements are elucidative firsthand accounts of high-level policy making in an opaque country.

There is, moreover, a semblance of consensus in the international community and among independent researchers and think tanks that Pakistan is a state-sponsor of terrorism.

Numerous high-level foreign leaders have criticized or condemned Pakistan for its terror links, including former British Prime Minister David Cameron, Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Canadian Citizenship & Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, and a litany of Indian leaders.

A 2008 report by the Brookings Institution, a progressive think tank, discusses how Pakistan “has long supported a range of [Kashmir-related] terrorist groups… and is a major sponsor of Taliban forces fighting the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.”

A 2017 issue brief by the Heritage Foundation, following a similar line of reasoning and evidence, recommended that “NATO leaders” should attempt to “pressure” Pakistan to “stop providing relief to the Taliban.”

Some U.S. lawmakers have listened to these and countless other assessments. Most notably before the Trump presidency, in September 2016, Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas and Democratic Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California introduced a bill to Congress to review Pakistan’s record on terror and likely designate it as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Although Pakistan has repeatedly denied it, the evidence, alongside domestic and international consensus, acknowledge the Islamic Republic’s support of terror groups and activities.

Trump is also correct that the U.S. paid Pakistan “billions and billions” while the country organized and bankrolled radical Islamic terrorism.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimates that from the fiscal year (FY) 2002 – roughly indicative of the start of the War on Terror – to FY2016, the U.S. has appropriated nearly eight billion dollars in “Security-Related” aid to Pakistan. (The FAS underscores that this is likely an overstatement of the actual aid total as the U.S. can and has withheld appropriated aid funds.)

FAS additionally estimates that the U.S., between FY2002 and FY2016, paid (not appropriated) Pakistan around $14.5 billion for “Coalition Support Funds” – payments essentially for logistical and operational support of U.S.-led military efforts in neighboring, landlocked Afghanistan.

These $22 billion of defense-related appropriations and payments are in addition to FAS’ estimate of another nearly $11 billion in economic and humanitarian aid appropriations to Pakistan during the same time span. Combined, these appropriations and payments total $33 billion over a decade and a half.

Trump’s claim that the U.S. has “been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars” as it was “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting” holds up to the facts.

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Kush Desai

Fact Check Reporter