US Senate clears all but $50m of aid package
WASHINGTON, Dec 19: The US Senate has approved a $785 million aid package for Pakistan without conditions but has placed some restrictions on a small portion of military assistance for fiscal 2008.
There are no restrictions on $350 million of economic support assistance and other funds Pakistan receives under a five-year, $3.5 billion package finalised in 2005.
The House of Representatives approved this package on Monday night.
The Senate voted 76 to 17 on Tuesday night to approve a huge $556 billion spending bill for fiscal 2008, which apparently includes the package for Pakistan.
Later, the Senate also voted to provide an additional $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since this was not included in the House bill, the measure was sent back to the House for a final vote.
Once it clears the House, the measure will go to President George W. Bush for signature. Mr Bush has already indicated that he will sign it.
Out of a total of $300 million of annual military assistance approved for Pakistan, $50 million have been withheld. This amount will be released only after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice submits a report saying that Pakistan is making progress in the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups and has taken steps for the implementation of an unfettered democracy in the country.
The Bush administration has indicated that it will issue the required certificate but the condition may create new problems for Pakistan, particularly after a change of government in Washington.
The terrorism related conditions are included in the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act passed earlier this year while the section on democracy was proposed by the Committee on Appropriations. Senator Joe Biden who is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. Nita Lowey were the prime movers of this proposal.
The 9/11 act is a bigger cause of concern for Pakistan than the democracy-related restrictions. As the restrictions placed under this act are linked to a law aimed at preventing future terrorist attacks, it will be very difficult for any US administration to undo these conditions.
Since the Bush administration considers Pakistan a strong ally in the war against terror, it is willing to issue the certification needed to qualify for US assistance.
But the administration has only a year left and the next administration may or may not be as friendly. Besides, the certification brings Pakistan under increased US scrutiny which the government and opposition forces both dislike.
“We are not happy with the situation,” says Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington.
US Senate clears all but $50m of aid package -DAWN - Top Stories; December 20, 2007