US Congressional panel approves tripling of aid to Pakistan; conditions apply (Lead)

May 21st, 2009 - 3:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 21 (IANS) A US Congressional panel has approved a bill to triple US economic assistance to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year, but with stiff conditions requiring Islamabad to demonstrate a sustained commitment and progress towards combating terrorist groups.

The tripled economic assistance focuses on strengthening democratic institutions, promoting economic development and improving Pakistan’s public education system, with an emphasis on access for women and girls. The bill also establishes a permanent Pakistan Democracy and Prosperity Fund for non-military assistance, which demonstrates America’s long-term commitment to Pakistan’s democratic future.

Called the Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement or the PEACE Act of 2009, the bill authorises military assistance to help Pakistan disrupt and defeat Al Qaeda and insurgent elements.It requires that the vast majority of such assistance be focused on critical counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts and all military assistance flow through the democratically elected Government of Pakistan.

The legislation includes accountability measures for military assistance, including a requirement that the Pakistan government has demonstrated a sustained commitment to combating terrorist groups and has made progress towards that end.

“Contrary to what some have said, these are not ‘rigid’ or ‘inflexible’ conditions,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard L. Berman said. He had insisted on including strict restrictions against Pakistan in return for the aid despite Obama administration’s opposition.

“To ensure that the president has sufficient flexibility, we provide a waiver if he is unable to make the determinations. I think this is an excellent bill that will strengthen the critical US-Pakistan relationship and support the US national security objectives in South Asia,” he said.

The original bill among other things required Pakistan “not to support any person or group that conducts violence, sabotage, or other activities meant to instil fear or terror in India.” It also required Pakistan to ensure access of US investigators to “individuals suspected of engaging in worldwide proliferation of nuclear materials, and restrict such individuals from travel or any other activity that could result in further proliferation.”

“This legislation would massively expand economic, social and democracy assistance to Pakistan, and also provide a significant increase in military assistance,” Berman said, and create a new, more positive framework for US-Pakistan relations.

“We need to forge a true strategic partnership with Pakistan, strengthen its democratic government, and do what we can to make Pakistan a force for stability in a volatile region.”

To ensure that US assistance is truly benefiting the people of Pakistan, the legislation requires rigorous oversight and auditing, Berman said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, sought to reassure US lawmakers that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure and that American aid money won’t be diverted to produce even more nuclear weapons.

The issue of Pakistan increasing its nuclear weapons stockpile was raised by Democrat Patrick Leahy as he chaired a hearing of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

“Are we just giving them money, which is after all fungible, and is going into not fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which are groups that are destabilising that country more and more all the time, but rather is that money just going into the nuclear programme?” Leahy asked.

“I think that there is no basis for believing that any of the money that we are providing will be diverted into the nuclear programme,” Clinton replied adding, the United States stands ready to assist Pakistan in protecting its nuclear arsenal.

“We are assured by the Pakistani military and the government that they have control over their nuclear weapons at this time and we have offered and continue to work with them in any way that they deem appropriate to help them assure the safety and security of those weapons.”

“I do not see that as an immediate threat but it is certainly one we take very seriously,” Clinton said.

Her comments came as a Washington based arms control group, the Institute for Science and International Security, released a report accusing Pakistan of expanding its nuclear weapons programme.

The satellite photos it said show expansion of “Pakistan’s key military and civilian fuel cycle site near Dera Ghazi Khan.”

Clinton also told lawmakers on the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee that there had been dramatic changes in Pakistan since she testified in a hearing last month about the inability or unwillingness of the Pakistani government to take on the Taliban.

“That has turned around,” Clinton said. “What we see now is an all-out effort by the Pakistani military to take back territory that had been seized by the Taliban.”

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