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US Senate takes up bill tripling aid to Pakistan

Influential US Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar on Monday introduced legislation tripling American aid to Pakistan to $ 1.5 billion annual for five years to carry forward what Washington believes will be a rejuvenated policy aimed at walking the troubled country back from the embrace of extremism and terrorism. ( Watch )

The bill, introduced on the eve of President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Washington, incorporates exacting conditions for aid, in keeping with President Obama’s promise that there would be no ”blank check” for Pakistan.

Among other things, the Kerry-Lugar bill conditions military aid on certification that the Pakistani security forces are (a) Making concerted efforts to prevent al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups from operating in the territory of Pakistan; (b) Making concerted efforts to prevent the Taliban from using Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to launch attacks within Afghanistan; (c) Are not materially interfering in the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.

The so-called ”Detailed Pakistan Assistance Strategy” also requires the President to submit a semi-annual report to Congress that describes in detail the assistance provided to Pakistan under this Act and ”assesses the effectiveness of US. assistance, including any incidents of waste, fraud, and abuse.”

It also requires the Secretary of State, after consulting with the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, to submit to Congress an annual report on the progress Pakistani security forces have made in fighting extremism.

The bill authorizes $7.5 billion over the next 5 years ($1.5 billion annually for FY 2009 –2013) that is ”intended to emphasize economic growth and development,” and advocates an additional $7.5 billion over the subsequent 5 years.

This amount is separate from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) reimbursements that Pakistan gets for servicing US presence in Afghanistan for which the bill recommends greater oversight.

Delinking military from non-military aid and attaching conditions to the former, the bill says ”in the past the Pakistani military could bypass civilian authorities to focus policy on its institutional interests. Under Kerry-Lugar, economic assistance is no longer the poor cousin to military aid. Rather than locking in a level of such aid which might not be in line with rapidly-changing Pakistani capabilities and commitment, the bill leaves the level of security aid to be determined on a year-by-year basis.”

”The status quo is not working: the United States believes it is paying too much and getting too little—and most Pakistanis believe exactly the opposite,” the Democrat Kerry and Republican Lugar, said while introducing the bipartisan bill. ”Without changing this baseline, there is little likelihood of drying up popular tolerance for anti-US. terrorist groups or persuading Pakistani leaders to devote the political capital necessary to deny such groups sanctuary and covert material support.”

Despite its seemingly rigorous conditions, the Senate bill is much softer than the one being moved in the House by California lawmaker Howard Berman. His ”Peace Act” makes aid to Pakistan contingent on, among other benchmarks, stopping all Kashmiri militant groups from operating from the Pakistani soil and on Pakistan giving an undertaking that it will not allow its territory to be used for any armed attack against or inside India.

The Senate bill drops all specific references to India (which Pakistan is said to have found humiliating) and instead frames the requirements in a broader context.

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