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Unable to alter Pakistan aid terms, admits US Congressman

By Aziz Haniffa
September 18, 2009 13:05 IST
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Though the Indian caucus in the Obama administration is concerned over the recent reports concerning Pakistan's funds being used against India, it may be unable to bring any changes in the Kerry-Lugar bill that has assured Pakistan of US $ 1.5 billion on an annual basis for five years.

US Congressman Frank Pallone, founder and erstwhile co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, told that the Indian caucus was trying to prevail on the Obama Administration to seek more accountability or restrict its security assistance to Islamabad.

However, he added, the massive Kerry-Lugar aid, which also contains a significant security assistance component, was a virtual fait accompli, and it was unlikely that the aid would be constrained in the light of the new revelations.

Recent reports that Pakistan had illegally modified US-supplied Harpoon missiles to target India, and former President Pervez Musharraf's revelation that he had diverted American military aid meant to fight terrorism on the eastern border against India, have made India and the Indian caucus in the US anxious over Pakistan's ways.

Congressional sources told that Senator John F Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the ranking Republican on the Committee Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, were insistent on approving the bill; so much so that they would even steamroll it all the way to President Obama's desk for his signature without any conditionalities, which the White House has said Pakistan would not accept.

Pallone said, "Obviously, (for) those of us in the India caucus, one of our major concerns is that that aid not be used in a way that is contrary to India's interests."

"We have to make sure when this agreement is finally signed and approved by the Congress, it is not being used for the purpose of either training or weapons or technology that would be used or directed against India -- it's supposed to be used obviously in the war against terrorism and that means against the Taliban, and the Al Qaeda and the other terrorist concerns that we have, not against India," he added.

"…We are working in the India caucus to try to make sure that these safeguards are there," Pallone said.

But when pressed by on how the caucus planned to achieve this objective and convince the Obama administration and the likes of Kerry and Lugar that there has to be some rethinking of the aid package, particularly the security component, Pallone said, "I don't know if we can change it with actual language or just perhaps watch it once it goes into effect."

"This is not easy. The problem is, Pakistan is at ground zero at this stage. It's very unstable. We are all worried that at any moment the government could collapse. A few months ago we were worried that the Taliban could take over the government. And so, it's very hard."

He added, "We've been trying to tell the administration that you've got to be worried about where this money is going. But I don't know if we can actually get language in the final agreement."

Earlier, the Obama administration had objected to some of the tough conditions contained in the House bill on aid to Pakistan authored by Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Congressman Howard Berman, a California Democrat, and Berman quickly cleared it all and produced a bill that was a veritable clone of the Kerry-Lugar bill.

The present Pakistani government, as had Musharraf earlier, has been effectively leveraging to the US that it stood between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the US thus had to acquiesce to its demand for aid with no strings attached.

"So, it's just an ongoing process of just constantly reminding… that's what the caucus has to do. Just constantly say, where's the money going?

"I am not telling you that we are going to be completely successful or even mildly successful. I don't know. It's just the age-old dilemma that we've had, having these unstable governments in this very crucial area where we can't disassociate ourselves."

"Where we have to provide assistance and where to rely on them to try to fight terrorist forcers, how much ability we have to do that and not have them focus on India as the enemy is difficult," he added.
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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC