US plans to triple non-security aid to Pakistan

US plans to triple non-security aid to Pakistan in new strategy
AFP, June 26, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States is considering a new aid strategy for Pakistan that will triple unconditional non-security aid to 1.5 billion dollars annually but tie security funding to counterrorism performance, lawmakers said.

In coming weeks, bipartisan legislation will be introduced in the US Senate laying the foundation for the new approach, senior Democratic Senator Joseph Biden said Wednesday.

Biden, who chaired a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the new strategy, proposed that the central elements of the new plan include tripling non-security aid to 1.5 billion dollars annually over a 10-year period.

"A significant increase in non-security aid, guaranteed for a long period, would help persuade the Pakistani populace that America is not a fair-weather friend but an all-weather friend; it would also help persuade Pakistan's leaders that America is a reliable ally," he said.

But Biden, in a controversial move, also wanted US security aid -- around one billion dollars annually at present -- to be tied to results.

This, he said, would "push the Pakistani military to finally crush" the Al-Qaeda and Taliban militant groups believed based along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"It's not clear we're getting our money's worth. We should be willing to spend more if we get better returns -- and less if we don't," he said.

Biden said that the US-Pakistan relationship was in "desperate need of a serious overhaul" and that the status quo is "unsustainable."

The United States provided Pakistan more than 10.5 billion dollars for military, economic, and development activities in the 2002-2007 period.

Ranking Republican Senator Richard Lugar said Biden's proposal for dramatic adjustments to US foreign assistance to Pakistan had given the committee "an important model for discussion.

"We should carefully reconsider both the amounts that we are providing and the goals we are hoping to achieve in Pakistan," Lugar said.

President George W. Bush's administration has given general support to the plan.

"While we do not agree on every point in the current version of the proposed legislation, we welcome this initiative and feel strongly that a new, bipartisan commitment to partnership with Pakistan is crucial," said Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher.

"We look forward to working closely with this committee to see this initiative through," he said.

The elements of Biden's plan "are vital but they may be reconfigured in the final legislation," one congressional aide said.

The Pentagon cautioned that any strategy change in military aid should not come at the expense of Pakistan's legitimate defense needs, opposing any "conditional language" on security assistance.

"Doing so undermines the trust relationship with Pakistan at a time when it is most critical," cautioned Mitchell Shivers, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense.

But Biden said the performance of the Pakistan military has been mixed.

"We've caught more terrorists in Pakistan than in any other country but Pakistan remains the central base of Al-Qaeda operations."

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent US government watchdog, had called for a coherent plan to stem any terrorist threat coming from Pakistan.

It particularly referred to the vast, impoverished, mountainous and unpoliced Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), seen as a key sanctuary for top terrorists who masterminded the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said any legislation tying security aid to performance would not be easy.

"Historically, Pakistan viewed conditioned aid as a colonial practice that belittles the recipient," she said.


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