The US Congress voted on Wednesday to triple aid to Pakistan in a five-year commitment aimed at bringing development to the frontline nation and reducing the allure of Islamic extremism.
President Barack Obama has enthusiastically supported the $7.5-billion package, calling it a long-term investment to fight al-Qaeda extremists by building schools, empowering women and strengthening the civilian government.
“This legislation helps give Pakistan the tools, support and capability it needs to defeat al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups that threaten our national security,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after the vote.
The House of Representatives gave the final go-ahead despite the misgivings of some lawmakers concerned either that Pakistan was not doing enough to fight extremists or that the heavily indebted United States cannot afford the package.
Representative Howard Berman, an author of the legislation, regretted that the final version had lighter conditions on the aid but said it was most crucial to forge a “true strategic partnership” with Pakistan and its people.
“We can’t allow Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group that threatens our national interest to operate with impunity in the tribal regions or any other part of Pakistan,” said Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Nor can we permit the Pakistani state and its nuclear arsenal to be taken over by the Taliban.”
Obama has made the fight against al-Qaeda, which carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, and the Taliban a top foreign policy priority of his young presidency.
In a shift of tactics, Obama has viewed Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of the same conflict, worried about fighters’ movement across the porous frontier. Obama is also considering sending more troops into Afghanistan.
The House approved the Pakistan aid bill by a voice vote after its unanimous approval last week in the Senate.
Senators had toned down some of the stricter conditions in the bill after both Pakistani and Obama administration officials warned of the risks of micro-managing the assistance.
The Bill still insists that Pakistan take action against extremist groups on its soil and not assist them in fighting neighbouring countries, namely India.
But instead of threatening cutoffs of aid, it allows the president to waive the review if he determines that sending the aid suits US interests.