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Senators oppose Obama move on aid to Pakistan

Senators oppose Obama move on aid to Pakistan

Author: S Rajagopalan
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 14, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/176094/Senators-oppose-Obama-move-on-aid-to-Pakistan.html

A week after Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's extensive meetings in Washington, the Obama Administration is still to resolve differences in the US Congress over its proposal of US $7.5 billion in economic aid to Pakistan over the next five years, besides an unspecified amount in military aid.

A meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee late on Tuesday witnessed sharp exchanges with two Senators, Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Bob Corker, questioning the grant of such huge sums without stipulating benchmarks beforehand.

President Barack Obama's special envoy Richard Holbrook found himself in a tight spot as he sought to make the case for urgent Congressional nod to the aid plan.

The legislation on the aid package, moved by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, will soon come up for a floor vote. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has announced $5 million in emergency aid to Pakistan to help tide over the refugee crisis following the anti-Taliban offensive in the Swat region.

Pushing for early passage of the legislation, Holbrooke said the aid package would go a long way in helping Pakistan's new democracy build roads, improve healthcare and combat poverty. "The only beneficiary of a delay in this Bill is the enemies of our nation," he commented.

But Senators Menendez and Corker stood their ground, challenging Holbrooke's assertions. Besides their opposition at the committee meeting, there are indications that some other Senators are planning amendments to stipulate conditions which Pakistan has been resisting.

Citing Pakistan's track record, Menendez said he remained troubled by the fact that Pakistan had spent much of the $12 billion received in US aid in the past on building up its military against India instead of fighting against insurgents gaining strength on its west.

"The Pakistanis have, in my mind, a series of one step forward, two steps backwards…. You wonder whether the Pakistanis are on the same page as us or they are only there when, in fact, pressure is exerted in their own national interest as well as ours," he said.

Menendez, who also chairs the subcommittee in charge of foreign assistance, was livid with some of Holbrooke's assertions. "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," he told the veteran diplomat, adding he "personally can't continue down that road".

Corker went a step further, saying he wanted to ensure that the aid money did not end up "in a bank account in Switzerland", commenting: "For us to pass a large amount of funding and yet then ask for you to tell us what you're going to do with it, to me seems backwards."

"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," Corker said.

Senator Kerry, chairing the hearing, defended the aid package, saying the US needed to mend "a broken relationship with the Pakistani people". "Today an alarming number of Pakistanis actually view America as a greater threat than Al Qaeda," he said, adding: "Until this changes, there's little chance of ending tolerance for terrorist groups, or persuading any Pakistani Government to devote the political capital necessary to deny such groups sanctuary and covert material support."

Kerry praised Pakistan's new military offensive against the Taliban, commenting: "In recent days we have seen encouraging signs that Pakistan's Army is finally taking the fight to enemy, but much remains to be done."


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