The offer that wasn't: How Pak FM bungled up on 'US aid'

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jan 06, 2015 12:38 IST

Pakistan blew this one and cheaply.

Pakistan's finance minister Ishaq Dar was told of a civilian aid package of $532 million in a private conversation by US ambassador Richard Olson on December 29.

The Pakistani foreign ministry promptly put out a statement about it within hours of that conversation. And soon it was the leading headline in Pakistani media.

Americans were in holiday mood then — no one really works then, even those on duty — and did not see it, not in Islamabad, which was apparently short-staffed then, not in Washington DC.

For a week, Pakistan relished the aid, or the prospect of it. Until Monday, when America returned to work.

"Congress has not been notified of a request (for fresh assistance for Pakistan under the KLB act)," said state department spokesperson Jen Psaki on Monday.

She went on to dismiss any suggestion, in news reports that caused the clarification, that the aid was cleared because the US approved progress made by Pakistan on counter-terrorism.

The money was gone with the certification.

It seems, based on multiple off-the-record interviews with officials and congressional aides, the US may have been working on a civilian aid package for Pakistan. And Olson conveyed it to the Pakistanis in preparation for a coming visit by secretary of state John Kerry, which also went off the table on Monday.

President Barack Obama is traveling to India for the Republic Day parade — as the first American chief guest — and Pakistan has privately, and publicly, felt aggrieved.

Much was made in Pakistan, therefore, about a call from Obama to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to let him know shortly after India and the US announced his visit.

A tour by Kerry with a half-billion dollar aid package could have helped. And the US wanted to — the draw-down in Afghanistan is top on the list of its priorities for relations with Pakistan.

But the finance ministry misread the meeting with Olson.

The US has completely denied there is an aid package coming. In fact, sources said they were bewildered by the number — $532 million.

"Where has that come from?" asked an official.

This may be theatre to save a blundered situation. But multiple sources confirmed Monday that the administration is yet to propose a financial assistance package for Pakistan.

Under the KLB Act (Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act), passed in 2009 and amended later, any aid to Pakistan — civilian or non-civilian (military, security related) is conditional upon the administration certifying that Pakistan was "cooperating with the United States in counterterrorism efforts against the Haqqani Network, the Quetta Shura Taliban, Lashkar e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, al Qaeda, and other domestic and foreign terrorist organisations, including taking steps to end support for such groups and prevent them from basing and operating in Pakistan and carrying out cross border attacks into neighboring countries". And there are other conditions, such as prevention of nuclear proliferation.

But to give the administration flexibility the law allowed it to seek waiver of those conditions in national security interest, only for security-related aid in the original law, extended to cover all kinds of assistance in 2012.

Apart from a "blank certification" of Pakistan fulfilling all stipulated conditions in 2012, assistance under this act has been cleared mostly on the basis of waivers.

The US "employed the national interest waiver provided for in the legislation in part because the criterion … required to be met has not been met", said the state department spokesperson.

That may well be the course adopted for clearing the next tranche — Pakistan is supposed to get $1.5 billion every year under the KLB act — whenever that happens.

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