WASHINGTON, Dec 20: The United States will provide more than $300 million a year in military aid to Pakistan over the next five years, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

The current arrangement of $300 million of annual military aid expires on Sept 30, 2009 when the US fiscal year 2008-09 ends. This was part of a $3 billion US aid package agreed in 2003 and was evenly divided between military and economic assistance. Under a new arrangement, now being discussed between Pakistani and US officials, the US administration has agreed to increase its military assistance to Pakistan.

Diplomatic sources told Dawn that while a precise figure has not yet been agreed; the US administration had informed Pakistan that it would be more than $300 million a year.

The new military aid package will be valid for the next five years. Although it is initiated by the outgoing Bush administration, a change of government on Jan 20 will not affect the package, sources said.

The proposed aid package, titled US defence and security assistance to Pakistan, aims at strengthening the country’s counter-terrorism capability. Besides enhancing the army’s counter-terrorism skills, the package will also finance programmes meant for strengthening the law enforcement agencies, such as the Frontier Corps, the Frontier Constabulary and the police.

This military and security aid will require annual certification from the US administration that Pakistan is cooperating in the war against terror.

For non-military assistance, however, Pakistan will have to wait for the passage of the Biden-Lugar bill which was presented in the outgoing Congress and will be one of the top priorities of the next Congress as well.

The Biden-Lugar bill calls for a $15 billion US economic assistance to Pakistan for the next 10 years. There will be no strings attached to economic assistance but the proposed bill will condition all US military aid to Pakistan to its performance in the war against terror.

On Thursday, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told a briefing that the US Defence Department was working on a proposal to provide additional security assistance to Pakistan in support of its counter-terrorism efforts along the Afghan border.

He said the proposal for new assistance for to Pakistan has come from the Central Command and is at early stages. The proposed funding is in addition to existing programmes, including the coalition support fund and foreign military financing.

“Right now we’ve got, you know, in addition to the coalition support fund and the foreign military financing, there is a proposal coming out of Centcom to provide some additional kinds of financial assistance that would -- assist the Pakistani military in their counter-terrorism operations,” he said.

“But this is just a proposal at this point, hasn’t gotten to this -- to the secretary, and hasn’t been briefed to Congress. I think it’s in the conceptual stages. And I don’t have really anything further beyond that,” he added.

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