“Equally important is our assistance to Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation with strong ties and interests in Afghanistan,” Secretary Clinton said. - File Photo

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Congress on Tuesday not to cut US aid to Pakistan as lawmakers raised concerns about continued incarceration of a CIA contractor in Lahore.

“Equally important is our assistance to Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation with strong ties and interests in Afghanistan,” Secretary Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee while urging lawmakers earlier not to reduce US aid to Kabul.

“We are working to deepen our partnership and keep it focused on addressing Pakistan’s political and economic challenges as well as our shared threats,” she said.

But the committee’s chairperson Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said that “Pakistan must also do more to meet pressing US concerns, including the release of Raymond Davis, our detained American diplomat”.

The Republican lawmaker from Florida emphasised that Pakistan must also shift its “approach to Afghanistan away from armed proxies and towards constructive and legitimate political partners”.

The guiding principle for US policies, she noted, was “the safety of our men and women serving with distinction in Afghanistan, and that country’s transition to a more stable and democratic future”.

Secretary Clinton told the congressional panel that the assistance the Obama administration was seeking for Pakistan and Afghanistan was part of “a few of our key investments” and “funds vital civilian missions” in those countries.

“Alongside our military offensive, we are engaged in a major civilian effort that is helping to build up the governments, economies, and civil societies of both countries and undercut the insurgency,” she added.

Besides increasing its civilian and military activities in Afghanistan, this year the US administration is also seeking money for a new diplomatic push in that country.

This diplomatic push, the secretary noted, would support an Afghan process to split the Taliban from Al Qaeda, bring the conflict to an end, and help stabilise the region.

“Our military commanders are emphatic they cannot succeed without a strong civilian partner. Retreating from our civilian surge in Afghanistan with our troops still in the field would be a grave mistake,” she warned. Secretary Clinton also warned that the 16 per cent cut for state and USAID budgets that passed the House last month would be “devastating for our national security”.

The cut would force the US to “scale back dramatically on critical missions” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, she said.

Secretary Clinton noted that US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen had also told Congress that “we need a fully engaged and fully funded national security team, and that includes state and USAID”.

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, however, pointed out that the cumulative $61.4 billion budget request for international affairs was a 42 per cent increase over fiscal year 2008 levels.

The $12 billion State Programmes request, she added, was a 25 per cent increase over 2010 actual levels, and a nearly 75 per cent increase since 2008.

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