US House panel drops India mention in Pakistan aid bill

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : A US House panel has dropped explicit demands for preventing terrorist attacks against India and access to nuclear smuggler A.Q.Khan as conditions in a legislation that triples US aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion annually.

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Thanks to lobbying by the Obama administration to take into account Islamabad’s sensitivities, the House Foreign Affairs Committee reworked the language of the bill to condition aid to Pakistan in more general terms.

It now requires Pakistan “ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups” and “preventing cross border attacks into neighbouring countries” and providing “access to Pakistani nationals” connected to proliferation networks.

In approving the Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement Act (HR 1886 or Peace Act), the committee took cognisance of Pakistan’s complaint that it felt “humiliated” by language implicating the country in nuclear proliferation and cross-border terrorism, particularly mention of India.

But the legislation still includes accountability measures for military assistance, including a requirement that the Government of Pakistan 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,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard L. Berman said.

“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 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,” he said.

The House committee bill now goes before the full House even as similar legislation, which is much lighter on benchmarks, makes its way through the US Senate.

The two bills will then be reconciled at a ‘conference’ – where the administration is expected to side with the less punitive Senate legislation-to arrive at one single bill for final approval by the Congress.

Former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is leading the effort to dilute the benchmarks in the bill, arguing that make it too tough or rigid will not allow Washington to achieve its goals.