US drive to bolster Pakistan civilian aid stalls

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A showpiece US policy on Pakistan – endorsed by Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton even before they took office – has stalled in Congress because of differences among legislators over what approach Washington should take to Islamabad.

During last year’s US election campaign, all three US officials – then senators and now respectively president, vice-president and secretary of state – backed the proposal to triple civilian aid to Pakistan to $1.5bn (€1.04bn, £885bn) a year.

“It’s time to strengthen stability by standing up for the aspirations of the Pakistani people,” Mr Obama said in a speech in June 2008 that laid out his support for the measure. “We must move beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience or face mounting popular opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror and radical Islam.”

But more than a year later the five-year legislation has not been agreed because of differences between the Senate and the House of Representatives over what conditions should be set for the aid and what specifications should be imposed on how the money is used.

Legislative aides said last-minute negotiations last week closed the gap between legislators but failed to produce agreement, meaning that the House went into recess without an accord. As a result, no legislation can now be passed before Congress reconvenes in September.

In the meantime, a policy that the Obama administration had sought to put at the heart of its Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy has yet to be determined. Although aid for this year has already been appropriated, the terms for the binding five-year programme – costing a total of $7.5bn – have not yet been agreed.

While Pakistan has objected strongly to attaching conditions to aid, both versions of the legislation include conditions based on efforts in the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. However, the House version goes further by prohibiting military assistance if Islamabad is deemed to be making inadequate efforts to combat nuclear proliferation and also specifies in much greater detail how the aid should be used.

Senate aides argue that such an approach risks being counter-productive and could infuriate Islam­abad.

House aides reply that Pakistan’s history of nuclear proliferation requires tough scrutiny and that the US has erred in the past by not sufficiently overseeing billions of dollars in aid to the country.

Congressional staffers say that, after an agreement is reached between the two sides, legislation will have to be reintroduced in both chambers of Congress.

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