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US bill seeks to triple aid to Pakistan

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC
Last updated on: May 05, 2009 10:01 IST
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On the eve of the visit to Washington of the beleaguered Pakistani President Asif Zardari for a meeting with President Barack Obama, US Senators John F Kerry and Richard Lugar introduced legislation to provide Pakistan with massive non-military aid over the next five years aimed at preventing the total collapse and implosion of that country.

The bill, known as the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, also known as the Kerry-Lugar bill calls for the tripling of US aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion annually over five years (fiscal years 2009-2013) "as a long-term pledge to the people of Pakistan."

It also advocates an additional $7.5 billion over the subsequent years.

Obviously indicating that the US too may have given up on the Zardari government and may be looking beyond this civilian government, Kerry, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked at a news conference after he and Lugar introduced the bill if this American largesse would help save to stabilize the Zardari government and the acute domestic financial crisis in Pakistan, said, "We have lost a lot of time."

But he argued that the assistance would be a clear sign to the Pakistani people of America's long-time commitment to Pakistan and that this time around it would not forsake them and their country once Washington completes fighting its war on terror of which Islamabad is a key ally."

"This legislation is the first time we have made a longer-term commitment," the Massachusetts Democrat said, and added: "While governments may change, I don't believe the country itself is about to fall apart."

According to a summary of the legislation, it aims, "to transform the relationship between the US and Pakistan, instead of a transactional, tactically-driven set of short-terms exercises in crisis-management," into building a "deeper, broader, long-term strategic engagement with the people -- and not just the leaders -- of this vitally important nation."

It said that "the Kerry-Lugar approach towards Pakistan emphasizes a long-term relationship built on mutual trust and cooperation," and argued that "only then will the people of Pakistan see the United States as an ally with shared interests and goals, such as defeating militant extremists that threaten the national security of both countries."

The summary said that "over the years, US assistance to Pakistan has fluctuated with political events, sending mixed messages and leading most Pakistanis to question both our intentions and our staying power. Today, most Pakistanis believe the United States will cut and run when it serves our purpose, a belief which undermines our long-term efforts to defeat extremists, foster democratic change, and support transparent and accountable institutions that promote security and stability in Pakistan."

"The status quo is not working," it said, and argued that "the United States believes it is paying too much and getting too little -- and most Pakistanis believe exactly the opposite."

Thus, if there is no change of this baseline, according to the legislation, "there is little likelihood of drying up popular tolerance for anti-US terrorist groups or persuading Pakistani leaders to devote the political and capital necessary to deny such groups sanctuary and covert material support."

In remarks on the Senate floor in introducing the bill, Kerry declared, "I believe this legislation will fundamentally change America's policy toward Pakistan, and I hope that over time it will fundamentally change America's relationship with the people of Pakistan as well."

He said, "It is hard to overstate the importance to our national security of Pakistan, a nation which could either serve as a force for stability and progress in a volatile region -- or become an epicentre for radical and violence on a cataclysmic scale."

Kerry said that "Pakistan has the potential either to be crippled by the Taliban, or to serve as a bulwark against everything the Taliban represents."

Making a strong pitch for support of the legislation, the lawmaker warned, "The dangers of inaction are rising almost by the day," and hence asserted that this legislation would "empower the moderates, who will have something concrete to put forward as evidence that friendship with American bring rewards as well as perils."

"And, it will empower the vast majority of Pakistanis who reject the terrifying vision of Al Qaeda and the Taliban -- but who have been angered and frustrated by the perception that their own leaders and America's leaders don't care about their daily struggle," he added.

Kerry said that on the security side, "the bill places conditions on military aid that will ensure that this money is used for intended purposes," and explained that in order for Pakistan to receive any military assistance, "it must meet an annual certification that its army and spy services are genuine partners in the struggle against Al Qaeda and other terrorists groups, including Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre of last November, in the battle against the Taliban and its affiliates, who threaten our troops in Afghanistan from their sanctuaries in the Pakistan tribal areas, and in the effort to solidify democratic governance and rule of law in Pakistan."

Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee, in his remarks said, "While our bill envisions sustained economic and political cooperation with Pakistan, it is not a blank check. It expects that the military institutions in Pakistan will turn their attention to the extremist dangers within Pakistan's borders."

He reiterated that "the bill subjects our security assistance to a certification that the Pakistani government is using the money for its intended purpose, namely, to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC