Does Pakistan deserve more US aid? Past record questioned (Lead)

May 13th, 2009 - 2:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 13 (IANS) Some US senators have opposed tripling non-military US aid to Pakistan, with one noting how Islamabad had spent much of the $12 billion aid it had received in the past in military build-up against India, a country that was described as “a great regional power”.

“You’re asking us to vote for a whole new set of money without knowing whether there are going to be benchmarks, without knowing whether we have a better system of accountability,” Democrat Robert Menendez said.

“I personally can’t continue down that road, as much as I think this is critical,” he said, expressing reservations about sending more long-term aid to Islamabad at a hearing of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday on the US policy for Pakistan.

Menendez said he remained troubled by what had happened in the past, noting Pakistan had received $12 billion in US aid and had spent much of it building up its military against India on its eastern border instead of fighting the insurgents who were gaining strength on its west.

Republican Bob Corker said Congress should slow down consideration of new aid to Pakistan.

“We have not hashed out what’s happening, and we are going to be engaged there for many, many, many years. Many men and women will lose their lives. We’re doubling down. And we haven’t debated this yet,” he said.

However, Democratic chairman of the Committee, John Kerry, a prime mover of increased aid to Islamabad said: “With its nuclear arsenal, terrorist safe havens, Taliban sanctuaries and growing insurgency, Pakistan has emerged as one of the most difficult foreign policy challenges we face.”

Kerry and the senior Republican on the committee, Richard Lugar, have introduced legislation to triple non-military US aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year, for five years.

Warning that even the dramatic increase in aid has its limits, he said: “Even as we take bold steps, we should realise that our aid package to Pakistan is not a silver bullet… we should be realistic about what we can accomplish. Ultimately the true decision makers are the people and leaders of Pakistan,” Kerry said.

US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday on the US policy for Pakistan: “My job is with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan… In all steps in the process we keep the Indians fully informed.”

“India is a great regional power. I have a great respect for India,” he said, noting New Delhi itself has a deep interest in the region and has a key role to play in resolving the crisis in its neighbourhood.

Holbrooke said he had held consultations with the new Indian ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, but would not say what were US expectations from India.

“The Pakistani Army has traditionally been arrayed in a conventional deployment in the east, against India,” he said.

“We must work with Pakistan so that it has the resources and training to recalibrate from its current conventional threat posture to one that addresses the insurgent threat on its western frontier.”

“Successfully shutting down the Pakistani safe haven for extremists will require consistent and intensive strategic engagement with Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership,” Holbrooke said.

The US acknowledged that India has a very high degree of interest in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Washington is now pushing Islamabad to move more troops from the Indian border to the “epicentre of terrorism in western Pakistan”.

“These are the men who killed (former Pakistan premier) Benazir (Bhutto), who did Mumbai, who attacked the cricket team in Lahore, who attacked the United States. The epicentre of this area is in western Pakistan,” Holbrooke said.

“Pakistani military has to take back the west and that’s where we are today as we hold this important hearing.”

However, he declined to comment on what the US can do to urge India to ease its tensions with Pakistan to help Pakistani military give up its “obsession” with India.

But “at all steps in the process, we keep the Indians fully informed. They are not only an interested party, they are arguably the interested party,” he said, “although many other countries, including most notably China and Iran have borders with Afghanistan and have also interests.”

However, “India’s interests are very high - India is the great regional power and I have great personal respect and affection for India”, he said.

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