WASHINGTON: The US House Foreign Affairs Committee approved on Friday a bill that would defund a $7.5 billion aid to Pakistan programme if signed into law, dealing a serious blow to already strained relations between the two allies.
On Thursday, the committee had rejected an amendment proposed by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, which sought to block all aid to Pakistan because of its alleged reluctance to combat terrorists.
But the narrow, party-based Friday vote - 23 for and 20 against - indicated that the bill would have a hard time clearing the Democrat-dominated Senate, although it might clear the Republican-dominated House where it would go next.
All but one Republican members of the committee voted for the suggested restrictions on US aid to Pakistan. All 20 Democrats voted against it. Congressman Ron Paul, the lone Republican dissenter, warned that the US could not afford to isolate Pakistan and that the restrictions would only fan anti-Americans feelings in that “sensitive region” of the world without achieving much.
The bill’s mover and the committee’s chairperson Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, however, insisted that Pakistan needed to be told that it would have to speed up the fight against terrorism or face sanctions. “It cannot be business as usual.”
The bill would undercut the spirit of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, more commonly known as the Kerry-Luger-Berman act, which aims to establish a long-term relationship between the two countries.
The act triples non-military foreign assistance to Pakistan to $1.5 billion per year till 2014 and hints at extending this arrangement for another five-year period.
The move to impose new sanctions on Pakistan has alarmed the Pakistan Embassy as well as the Pakistani-American community.
“We still have several hurdles to climb and many misgivings to address before the Congressional process of aid authorisation and appropriation is completed,” warned Pakistan’s Ambassador Husain Haqqani.
“We are very concerned and disappointed about provisions in the bill,” said a Pakistani advocacy group, the Council on Pakistan Relations. “Tying economic assistance to security assistance will send a message to the Pakistani people that the United States is more concerned about short-term interests ... rather than working to build stability over time in Pakistan and the region.”
The council urged the leadership of the House of Representatives and individual members to reject these “damaging provisions” when the bill comes to the House floor.
The proposals approved by the committee bind all US aid to a certification from the US secretary of state saying that Pakistan had “made or is making measurable progress toward achieving the principal objectives” of this assistance, i.e. to combat terrorists.
The secretary will also have to certify that Pakistan “is fully assisting the United States with investigating the existence of an official or unofficial support network in Pakistan for Osama bin Laden, including by providing the United States with direct access to Osama bin Laden’s relatives in Pakistan and to Osama bin Laden’s former compound in Abbottabad and any materials therein.”
Another provision requires the secretary to certify that Pakistan “is facilitating the issuance of entry and exit visas for official United States visitors engaged in counter-terrorism efforts and training or other cooperative programmes and projects.”
The secretary will also have to assure Congress that Pakistan is combating the Haqqani network and taking steps to eliminate improvised explosive device networks.
Another provision requires the secretary of state to ensure that Pakistan “is using defence and defence services provided by the US … according to the end-use purposes, security requirements, and other terms and conditions agreed to by the United States at the time of transfer or by subsequent agreement”.