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US Senate panel passes Pak aid bill, fails to attach conditions

world Updated: Jun 17, 2009 17:18 IST

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A bill to provide aid to Pakistan was passed by a key Congressional committee which stopped short of imposing strict accountability conditions on Islamabad, leaving it with the Obama administration to take decision on this as and when required.

US Senate Foreign Relation Committee passed the bill, which triples non-military assistance to Pakistan to $ 1.5 billion per annum for the next five years, but not before adding a series of amendments to the original text reflecting the strong sense of the Senators that the security assistance to Pakistan only be focused on defeating the Taliban insurgency and denying safe haven to Al-Qaeda and make sure that the aid provided should not be misused.

However it stopped short of imposing conditions on Pakistan in this regard and linking it with the aid, leaving it with the Obama Administration to take a call on this as and when required.

Though it does not impose a strong condition on Pakistan in this regard, the amendment accepted by the Senate Committee during the Markup Hearing of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, said "US security assistance earmarked for Pakistan should be focused on counterinsurgency capabilities to defeat the Taliban insurgency and deny sanctuary to Al-Qaeda and other extremists."

The amendment in this regard was moved by Senator Tom Casey, who earlier had been very critical of the US aid to Pakistan in the past. In fact, he moved three amendments, all of which were accepted by the Committee. Senator Casey's counterinsurgency amendment declares that the primary objective of security-related assistance to Pakistan should be to defeat the Taliban-backed insurgency. But unlike the House version of the Bill, it does not impose conditions on Pakistan in this regard.

His amendments also specify the need to facilitate political and legal reforms in Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan as one of the "uses of funds" spelled out in the legislation.

The Committee during its Markup hearing also accepted three amendments from Senator Robert Menendez, another Democratic Senator, who had been very critical of the US aid to Pakistan and had entered into a verbal duel with Richard Holbrooke, the Special US envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, who briefed the Committee last month.

One of his three amendments accepted by the Committee directs the President to develop criteria and benchmarks for Pakistan strategy, and consult with appropriate Congressional committees on Pakistan strategy (including criteria and benchmarks) 15 days before obligating any assistance.

Further in order to provide greater accountability, it increases the funds available for State and USAID Inspectors-General by $ 10 million over the original bill draft (ie, increased funding level from $ 20 million to $ 30 million).

Another amendment moved by Senator Bob Crocker and accepted by the Committee mandates the administration to provide "a description of the steps taken, or to be taken, to ensure assistance provided under this act is not awarded to individuals or entities affiliated with terrorist organisations."