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Why US Senate will approve $7.5 bn aid to Pak

May 15, 2009 13:24 IST

The massive $7.5 billion aid legislation to Pakistan, authored by United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John F Kerry and Republican Richard Lugar, would be approved without any difficulty in the coming weeks, Congressional sources have told

The massive aid to Pakistan will be approved in spite of the serious doubts raised by some members of the committee, including a senior Democrat and a few Republicans, they said.

The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, also known as the Kerry-Lugar bill, has received strong backing from the Barack Obama administration.

The Kerry-Lugar bill calls for the tripling of US aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion annually over the five year period between 2009 and 2013, for a total of $7.5 billion, and further advocates an additional $7.5 billion over subsequent years.

According to sources, even Democrat Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who had strongly opposed the bill last week, 'will come around' since President Obama himself is expected to weigh in with doubters like him.

"And you can bet Senator Menendez is not going to try to nix this bill, which President Obama has said is very important as part of moving ahead with his AfPak strategy," a close aide to Kerry, who serves on the Committee staff, said.

Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and James E Risch of Idaho had also expressed concerns over the massive largesse to Pakistan, arguing that the Obama administration had not provided the necessary benchmarks to ensure that they money would be spent in the intended areas.

But sources told that the Senators would not undermine much respected Republican Senator Lugar, who had spent countless hours framing this legislation -- initially with Democratic chairman of the Committee Senator Joe Biden, who is now vice-president -- and then gone over the same process with Kerry, who took over as chairman once Biden left for the White House.

On Tuesday,  Richard Holbrooke, Special US Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, made a feisty case for the supply of this massive economic and security assistance to Pakistan, warning the committee that any delay in the legislation would benefit the 'enemies of our nation'.

Menendez retorted, "We don't even know where significant parts of this money went to. You are asking us to vote for a whole new set of money without knowing whether we have a better system of accountability."

Holbrooke, clearly taken aback by Menendez's stance, argued, "We do have benchmarks, the Congress has asked for them, (and) they are being worked out in detail now in conjunction with the staffs of both houses under the direction of Admiral (Dennis) Blair, the Director of National Intelligence."

But he asserted  that "having said that, I believe that the Pakistani people and their new Democratic government deserve to have our support," and acknowledged that the $12 billion provided to Pakistan during the Bush regime was indeed "a waste -- a lot it -- because it went to conventional military support."

"But I am here today to underscore to you that we have a different strategy. We've laid it out in public, we've laid it out in private," he said, and warned that it would be a disaster if the US walked away from Pakistan now because it would damage its vital security interests.

Corker said, "I hate to be pejorative here, but I mean, the leader (referring to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari) was formerly called Mr 10 percent. I know that that may be unfair, but I do think we need to understand how these funds are going to be circulated in such a way that they don't end up in bank accounts in Switzerland."

Risch chimed in saying, "You can put me in the same column as Senator Corker and Senator Menendez, as being less than enthusiastic at this point."

Kerry, while strongly defending his legislation, said, "We gave significant billions of dollars to Pakistan for one purpose, and it was spent for another. Now, with that knowledge, we drafted this legislation and this legislation is very specific in saying that the president has to submit to us as well as the Appropriations Committee the amounts of funds that are going to specific projects and programmes."

Kerry further argued, "We are going to have a direct track on each and every dollar here, which is the intent and purpose of this legislation."

Kerry added, "What's interesting is that the Taliban doesn't do anything except scare people and kill people and intimidate them."

"So, they've actually left open an enormous opportunity, which is what the urgency of this bill is, to be able to come in and empower governments that actually make a difference to the lives of people," he said, and added, "That's the only way we have a prayer here."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC