US aid bill seeks to boost Pakistan civilian ties
Tue Jul 15, 2008, By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent
WASHINGTON, July 15 (Reuters) - Two senior U.S. senators on Tuesday unveiled a $7.5 billion, 5-year aid bill for Pakistan aimed at boosting civilian ties in an alliance heavily skewed toward a military fight against Islamic militants.
The legislation introduced by Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana directs aid to development projects such as schools, roads and clinics and aims to make Pakistan's military more accountable for the billions in U.S. support it has been receiving since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The bipartisan legislative move comes amid increasing attacks in Afghanistan blamed on militants based in Pakistan's border tribal belt, which is believed to be the sanctuary of al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden and key Taliban leaders.
Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the bill was designed to correct an "unsteady balancing act in one of the ... most dangerous spots in the world" that breeds recriminations in Washington and Islamabad.
"In the minds of many Americans, we've not gotten much for the billions of dollars we spent," he told reporters.
"And from the Pakistani perspective, America is seen as an unreliable ally who will abandon Pakistan the moment it's convenient to do so," Biden said, adding that Pakistanis resent what they perceive as a U.S. bias toward military rulers.
Lugar, the senior Republican on the committee, said the bill will help the United States seize on opportunities arising from the election in February of a civilian government that ended nine years of military rule in Pakistan.
"While our bill envisions sustained cooperation with Pakistan for the long haul, it is not a blank check," Lugar told reporters.
"It calls for tangible progress in a number of areas, including an independent judiciary, greater accountability by the central government, respect for human rights, and civilian control of the levers of power, including the military and intelligence agencies," he said.
Unveiled days before new Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani is due to visit Washington, the bill was hailed by Pakistan's U.S. envoy as a "great initiative" that would correct past errors and ease long-standing fears in Islamabad.
"A long-term commitment to Pakistan's security and territorial integrity will reinforce the commitment of the Pakistani people to fighting terrorism," Ambassador Husain Haqqani told Reuters.
The bill would triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion annually in the 2009-13 fiscal years, while making military aid conditional on certification that Pakistani security forces were working to prevent al Qaeda and its allies from operating in Pakistan or launching attacks into Afghanistan from Pakistan's territory.
It would also expand U.S.-Pakistan dialogue beyond military leaders to civilians and shift an agenda dominated by security issues to textile and farm trade, visas and other matters of concern to average Pakistanis, the senators said.
State Department spokesman Gonzo Gallegos said the Bush administration would work with Congress to "establish a new framework for economic and security assistance that can support Pakistan's democracy, counter its terrorism threats and strengthen its development." (Additonal reporting by Sue Pleming; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
NATO troops build up on Pak-Afghan border - DT, July 16, 2008