WASHINGTON: A consensus US defence bill, set to be approved by the House, recognises Pakistan as a key strategic partner and pledges more than $900 million in economic and other assistance to the country.

But the bill also conditions $450m from this assistance to a certification from the US defence secretary that Pakistan is committed to fighting all terrorist groups, including the Haqqani network.

This year the amount was $300m, which was not released after Secretary Ash Carter refused to certify in Pakistan’s favour.

The US National Defence Authori­sation Act for fiscal year 2017 was tentatively scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives on Friday evening, and in the Senate next week. Since it is a consensus bill, it is unlikely to face any opposition.

The bill notes that “the United States and Pakistan continue to have many critical shared interests, both economic- and security-related, which could be the foundation for a positive and mutually beneficial partnership.”

In a conference report, which combines the House and Senate versions of a legislation, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain also underlined the importance of a continued relationship between the United States and Pakistan.

He noted that the bill “refocuses security assistance to Pakistan on activities that directly support US national security interests”.

But Senator McCain also noted that the bill “conditions a significant portion of funding on a certification from the defence secretary that Pakistan is taking demonstrable steps against the Haqqani network in Pakistani territory”.

After a visit to North Waziristan earlier this year, the senator warned that US and Pakistani leaders “cannot allow ambivalence and suspicion to fester. Common interests in counterterrorism, nuclear security and regional stability are too important and too urgent”.

In the same statement, he noted that “limitations on US assistance to Pakistan and congressional reluctance to approve subsidies for the sale of defence articles have added to tensions between the two governments”.

Published in Dawn December 3rd, 2016

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