WASHINGTON: A US congressional panel has endorsed a draft bill that seeks to block $450 million in aid to Pakistan for failing to take action against Afghanistan’s militant Haqqani Network.

The National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) for 2017, approved last week by the House Armed Services Committee, questions Pakistan’s commitment to stopping militants from using its territory for conducting attacks.

Through an amendment to the original draft, the panel limits the amount available for reimbursement to $1.1 billion, of which $900 million would be for Pakistan.

The provision, however, has to go through several other channels, including the Senate and a joint session, before it is adopted.

The amount is separate from the $742m the US State Department is seeking for Pakistan as foreign assistance. Part of this amount is considered reimbursement of the money Pakistan spends on monitoring the Afghan border.

Congress had withheld $350m from last year’s defence authorisation, which can only be released if the United States Defence Secretary certifies that Pakistan is taking the steps needed to evict terrorists from North Waziristan.

Since last May, when this condition was attached, Pakistan has completed its operations in North Waziristan.

US observers have visited the area and endorsed Pakistan’s claim to have eliminated all terrorist hideouts in North Waziristan. Pakistani diplomats hope that the defence secretary would issue the required certificate by the end of June.

A similar certificate for NDAA 2017 will be needed before June next year, if the proposed amount of $450m is withheld. The 2017 act covers the support and reimbursement funds for the period between Oct 1, 2016, and Dec 31, 2017.

The draft requires the defence secretary to also certify that Pakistan is demonstrating commitment to preventing the Haqqani Network from using North Waziristan as a safe haven and is actively coordinating with Afghanistan to restrict the movement of militants along the border.

The House Armed Services Committee said it would continue to review the reimbursements made to Pakistan and how it helped meet key objectives of the US foreign policy in the region.

It requires the secretary to notify the congressional defence committees prior to making any reimbursement to Pakistan for any logistical, military or other support.

The secretary needs to certify that Pakistan is facilitating the ground lines of communications, taking demonstrable steps to support counterterrorism operations, disrupting cross-border attacks and countering the threat of improvised explosive devices.

The move comes days after Congress asked Pakistan to use its national funds to buy eight F-16s from the US.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2016

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