US spares Pakistan aid but keeps pressure

Jul 21, 2011

Washington, Jul 21, 2011 - A US Congress panel on Thursday rejected a proposal to cut off all aid to Pakistan but lawmakers and a military officer urged renewed pressure over the war partner’s relations with Islamic militants.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee easily blocked an amendment to a spending bill that would have banned any assistance to Pakistan in the wake of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden near the country’s main military academy.

Five lawmakers voted yes but 39 others rejected the measure by Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, who described aid to Pakistan as “foolishness” at a time that the United States is trying to avoid default on its debt.

“The time has come for us to stop subsidizing those who actively oppose us. Pakistan has shown itself not to be America’s ally,” Rohrabacher said when he introduced the defunding measure.

But the bill in its current form would still impose tighter controls over aid, making civilian assistance contingent on measurable progress by Pakistan.

US officials have long questioned Pakistani intelligence’s ties with extremists, including Afghanistan’s Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and the anti-Indian movement Lashkar-e-Taiba which allegedly plotted the grisly 2008 assault on Mumbai.

Admiral James Winnefeld, the nominee to be the number two US military officer, described Pakistan as a “very, very difficult partner.”

“We don’t always share the same worldview or the same opinions or the same national interest,” Winnefeld told his Senate confirmation hearing.

“I believe it’s very unfortunate that Pakistan years ago made a decision to go down a very risky road of using proxy groups to carry out some of its desires to protect what it views as its own national interest,” he said.

“I think we need to keep continued pressure on Pakistan, using all elements of pressure that we are able to apply to what really should be a friend, to get them to realize that the Haqqani network poses a threat to their own country and to take the steps that we’ve asked them to take,” he said.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the top US officer, recently said that Pakistan’s army or Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency likely killed journalist Saleem Shahzad, who had reported about militants infiltrating the military.

On a visit to Washington, Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf staunchly defended the army and ISI. He denied any Pakistani support for bin Laden, who apparently moved to the garrison town of Abbottabad while Musharraf was in power.

“I confidently and surely say that it was not complicity because I am very aware of one thing — that I didn’t know, whether one believes it or not,” Musharraf said at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“Is it possible that the army and the ISI were hiding from me? No 100 times — not at all, not possible. Because I am from the army — they are my people,” said Musharraf, who lives in self-imposed exile in London.

President Barack Obama’s administration recently suspended about one-third of its $2.7 billion annual defense aid to Pakistan. But it has assured Islamabad it is committed to a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian assistance package approved in 2009.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee debated aid to Pakistan during a marathon session in its second day in which Republicans have hoped to cut $6.4 billion from Obama’s budget requests.

The full bill would cut off civilian assistance to Pakistan unless the country is certified to be fighting Islamic militants. But even if the measure passes through committee, its prospects are uncertain.

Obama’s Democratic Party controls the Senate and supports civilian aid, saying it is crucial in the long run to strengthen democracy and raise educational levels in Pakistan to reduce the appeal of Islamic extremists.

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