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US lawmakers call for reaching out to people

March 26, 2007

WASHINGTON, March 25: Some US lawmakers – addressing Washington’s relations with Islamabad at various congressional hearings – have stressed the need to reach out to the Pakistani people for strengthening ties between the United States and Pakistan.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, noted that “virtually all” of the $800 million her department had requested for Pakistan in the next fiscal year “goes to the government of Pakistan in military assistance and budget support.”

She then reminded Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was representing her department at the hearing: “Our experience with the earthquake has shown us that direct assistance to the Pakistani people has had an important impact on winning hearts and minds.”

She then asked her to explain what the Bush administration was doing “to work with the government and civil society organisations to promote human rights, to ensure that the upcoming elections are free, fair and transparent.”

Congressman Dave Weldon, a Republican member of the prestigious House Appropriations Committee, told Ms Rice he was “very concerned” how those dollars given to help Pakistan gain control on the areas along the Afghan border “are intended to be used.”

He then complained that “a lot of teaching of incitement and jihadist mentality, violent jihad” had continued in the madressahs in Pakistan.

At a hearing on US policy towards Pakistan, Congressman Gary Ackerman claimed that “the government of Pakistan will use the threat of terrorists to extract as much from us as they possibly can and we have proven willing time and again to oblige”.

Mr Ackerman, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia, also advised the White House to expand it contacts in Pakistan.

Even Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who chairs the Pakistan caucus on Capitol Hill, noted the current judicial crisis in Pakistan and urged Islamabad to resolve it in a way that was acceptable to the people of the country.

At the appropriations hearing, Ms Rice acknowledged the need to reach out to the people of Pakistan.

Talking about the direct aid that the US provided to the earthquake victims, she recalled: “One of our people who was there talked about the little kids running around with little helicopters and saying to her, ‘Are you Miss Chinook,’ because Chinook had become associated with getting needed supplies to vulnerable people.”

She said the Bush administration was already funding various programmes that directly benefit the people.

But she acknowledged that “we, too, have concerns about the deal that was done between the Pakistani government and the tribal leaders in the region, where I think there are some concerns that the possible safe haven for terrorism there has to be dealt with”.