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US set to finalise Pakistan aid

The US Congress was set on Wednesday to take the final step to triple non-military aid to Pakistan, hoping to bring stability to a critical nation in the US-led fight against extremism.

world Updated: Sep 30, 2009 13:29 IST

The US Congress was set on Wednesday to take the final step to triple non-military aid to Pakistan, hoping to bring stability to a critical nation in the US-led fight against extremism.

Wrapping up months of sometimes divisive talks, the House of Representatives scheduled a vote for Wednesday on the bill to ramp up aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion per year through 2014 focusing on education and infrastructure.

The package then needs only the signature of President Barack Obama, who has enthusiastically supported the bill as a long-term investment to end the allure of extremism in the Islamic world's only declared nuclear weapons state.

Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy on Pakistan and Afghanistan, hailed the bill as a sign of a bedrock US commitment, saying that five-year funding promises were "very unusual in the modern world."

"Pakistan is a huge and important country," Holbrooke told reporters last week in New York after talks on Pakistan on the sidelines of the United Nations.

He noted that Karachi, the world's largest Muslim-majority city, suffered power blackouts for much of the day.

"These are serious problems and they contribute to instability," Holbrooke said.

The House of Representatives first approved the bill in June along largely party lines, with minority Republicans supporting aid but accusing Obama's Democrats of trying to micro-manage the package through onerous conditions.

The House will now vote on a compromise version with the Senate, where the bill was approved unanimously after lawmakers toned down some of the stricter conditions on the aid.

But the bill still insists that Pakistan take action against extremist groups on its soil and not assist them in fighting neighboring countries, namely India.

It specifically lists extremist movements Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Lashkar-e-Taiba is blamed for last year's bloodbath in Mumbai that left 165 people dead.

The bill also orders the administration to ensure that Pakistan prevent any proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The United States has voiced concern after Pakistan permitted freedom of movement for its key nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who five years ago admitted leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

The bill, which brought onboard even some of Pakistan's sharpest critics on Capitol Hill, sets as a key aim the consolidation of power in civilian hands.

Civilian President Asif Ali Zardari took over a year ago, ending a decade of military rule in Pakistan, but US officials worry that he is still weak and lacks full control over the nation's powerful military.

As US lawmakers wrapped up work on the bill, Pakistan's former military leader -- Pervez Musharraf -- made his way around Capitol Hill for closed-door discussions.

Musharraf, who was former president George W Bush's key ally in the "war on terror," criticized the brewing debate in Washington on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.

"By this vacillation and lack of commitment to a victory and talking too much about casualties (it) shows weakness in the resolve," Musharraf told The Washington Times.

The Obama administration has revamped the Bush strategy by saying it is looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan together, worried that extremists chased out of Afghanistan were finding refuge in lawless border areas.