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WASHINGTON: US Senator Rand Paul has introduced proposed legislation that prevents the federal government from processing almost $2 billion civilian assistance to Pakistan and seeks to make this ban permanent.

Instead, the bill will redirect those funds, amounting to $1.28bn from the State Department and $852 million from the United States Agency for International Development to the Highway Trust Fund.

Congressmen Mark Sanford, a Republican from South Carolina, and Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, will be introducing companion legislation in the US House of Representatives.

President Donald Trump endorsed the move to block civilian aid to Pakistan when Senator Paul announced his plan to introduce the bill earlier this month. “Good idea Rand,” Mr Trump tweeted.

Senator Paul, who is known on Capitol Hill for his strong anti-Pakistan views, said he had moved the bill because he did not believe Pakistan was America’s ally.

“We fail our responsibilities to protect our country and properly steward taxpayers’ hard-earned money when we support countries that chant ‘Death to America’ and burn our flag,” he said in a statement issued by his office.

“Let’s bring that money home and use it to help rebuild our infrastructure instead of giving it to a nation that persecutes Christians and imprisons people such as the doctor that helped us get Osama bin Laden,” he added.

The statement pointed out that President Trump also supported the proposal.

The introduction of the bill is only the latest effort by Senator Paul to end US assistance to Pakistan.

In July 2012, he introduced an amendment to limit foreign assistance to Pakistan unless it released Dr Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped the US track down and kill Osama bin Laden.

Senator Paul introduced another amendment in September 2012 to strike the $4 billion-a-year foreign aid to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya, which would have then provided an additional $2bn to the $1bn jobs bill for veterans and applied the remaining $2bn to reducing the federal deficit.

Later that month, Senator Paul secured a vote on standalone legislation cutting the aid contingent upon factors including the release of Dr Afridi, with nine other senators joining him.

In March 2016, he forced the Senate to vote on the sale of $700m F-16s to Pakistan, with 23 other senators joining him in opposition to the sale.

Additionally, Mr Paul has repeatedly urged Pakistan to reform laws that allegedly target religious minorities, including introducing a resolution last April to call on Pakistan to end the unjust imprisonment of Christian woman Aasiya Noreen, commonly referred to as Asia Bibi.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration suspended nearly all US security aid — about $1.3bn a year — to the country to force it to launch a crackdown on the Haqqani network.

The move followed a New Year Day tweet by President Trump, accusing Pakistan of “nothing but lies & deceit” and providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”

While announcing the suspension order, US officials indicated the freeze could be lifted if Pakistan reversed course and cut off contact with militants and reassigned intelligence officers with links to extremists.

But Senator Paul’s bill goes beyond security assistance and seeks to end all US aid to Pakistan and would make the ban permanent.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2018