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US House of Representatives passes bill tripling aid to Pakistan

Last updated on: June 12, 2009 14:56 IST
The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday proposing to triple the US non-military aid to Pakistan to US $ 1.5 billion per annum, but imposes strict accountability conditions on Islamabad with regard to its fight against terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation.
    
The Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement (PEACE) Act 2009 was passed by the House of Representatives by a roll call vote of 234 to 185, following a heated debate on this issue among US lawmakers.
    
"We fully appreciate the urgency of the situation in Pakistan, and the need for appropriate flexibility," said Howard Berman, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.Berman is the main sponsor of the bill.
    
"We are simply asking Pakistan to follow through with the commitments it has already made. In the process, we lay down
an important marker that Congress will no longer provide a 'blank check," Berman said.
    
To ensure that US assistance is truly benefiting the people of Pakistan, the legislation requires rigorous oversight and auditing, he said. "It establishes a set of principles that should govern US-Pakistan ties, including the actions that the two countries should take together to maintain a robust, relevant and lasting relationship," he said. 
 
A different version of the bill, which is much softer in nature towards Pakistan, is pending in the Senate for approval.
    
Once the Senate passes it version of the bill - more popular as Kerry Lugar Bill, the two bills will go to conference, unless the Senators chooses to take up the House version of the bill instead, which is unlikely to happen - given the reservation of the Obama Administration and Islamabad towards the stringent conditional ties imposed on Pakistan in this bill.
    
The PEACE Act authorises military assistance to help Pakistan disrupt and defeat al Qaeda and insurgent elements, and
requires that the vast majority of such assistance be focused on critical counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism
efforts. In addition, the bill requires that all military assistance flow through the democratically elected Government
of Pakistan.
 
Finally, the legislation includes accountability measures for military assistance, including a requirement that the Government of Pakistan has demonstrated a sustained commitment to combating terrorist groups and has made progress towards that end, Berman said. 
    
Earlier in his speech on the floor of the House, Berman said an annual presidential determination is required that determines Pakistan is cooperating with the US on non-proliferation, is meeting its commitment to combat terrorist groups, and has made progress towards that end.
"Contrary to what some have suggested, these are not "rigid" or "inflexible" conditions that "severely constrain" the military. We appreciate the urgency of the situation in Pakistan, and the need for appropriate flexibility. We are simply asking Pakistan to follow through with the commitments it has already made," he said.
    
"If the President is unable to make these determinations, then we should be asking ourselves much deeper questions about
what we really hope to achieve in Pakistan. By including these accountability provisions in this bill, we lay down an important marker that Congress will no longer provide a "blank check," Berman said.
Lalit K Jha in Washington
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