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Senators threaten to oppose aid to Pakistan

By Lalit K Jha Washington D.C
May 13, 2009 12:40 IST
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Influential American Senators have said they would oppose Obama administration's proposal to triple civilian aid to Pakistan and substantially increase assistance to its army without clear cut benchmarks and accountability provisions in it.

In fact these Senators, both from the Republican and Democratic parties, at times entered into a verbal duel with Richard Holbrooke, the Special United States Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, during a hearing on Pakistan convened by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Fearing that the new financial aid to Pakistan could meet the same fate as that of $12 billion given to Islamabad by the previous regime, these Senators, at times agitated, cautioned Obama administration that it should not expect a smooth approval of its proposals in the absence of accountability and benchmarks.

At one point of time Holbrooke even remarked that he was "troubled" with these statements. "I am deeply troubled by what you've said," Holbrooke told Robert Menendez, the Democratic Senator from New Jersey.

"You're asking us to vote for a whole new set of money without knowing whether there are going to be benchmarks, without knowing whether we have a better system of accountability. I personally can't continue down that road, as much as I think this is critical," Menendez said as other members of the Committee looked stunned.

"So there's going to have to be some give and take here if you want the support of some of us. I have been supportive along the way but we are just not here for a blank cheque," he said.

Republican Senator Richard Lugar along with Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Committee, sponsored the Kerry-Lugar bill, which proposes $ 7.5 billion financial aid to Pakistan in the next five years, tripling the non-military assistance to the country besieged by the Taliban militants.

Republican Senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker asked Holbrooke, "We are asking you to tell us what you're going to do with this money after we pass the bill... For us to pass a large amount of funding and yet then ask later for you to tell us what you're going to do with it to me seems backwards."

Corker said, "I think we are potentially embarking on a monumental mistake, whether we end up doing the right things or not, by this body not discussing this in the way that it should and being fully bought into something that I think is going to be a part of our country's efforts for years to come, especially since we are, in fact, doubling down, if you will, in Afghanistan."

Alleging that Pakistan at this point of time is being ruled by a leader, who in the past was called "Mr 10 per cent", Corker said, "I do think we need to understand how these money is going to be circulated through these countries in such a way that they don't end up in a bank account in Switzerland."

Holbrooke in his response defended the policies of the Obama administration and sought an early approval of both the supplemental and the Kerry-Lugar bill pending before the Senate in this regard.

He also pleaded that the Obama administration should not be penalised for the mistakes made by previous Bush administration. "The only beneficiary of a delay in this bill is the enemies of our nation, the people who are trying to have the next 9/11, because they will use it on that radio that I was talking about earlier to mislead people as to our true commitments in the area," Holbrooke said.

Observing that he does not want to penalise the administration, Senator Menendez said, "But I do believe that the past is prologue unless we change it. So what I'm looking for is a sense, a certainty of a strategy that will take this money and put it to good use between both the Kerry-Lugar bill and the supplemental and future money, as well as a sense of accountability and benchmarks so that we don't continue the history that we've seen here."

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Lalit K Jha Washington D.C
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