US Senate panel votes restrictions on Pakistan aid
Washington: A US Senate committee voted on Wednesday to make economic and security aid to Pakistan conditional on its cooperation in fighting militants such as the Haqqani network, which Washington blames for last week's attack on the US embassy in Kabul.
The Senate Appropriations Committee decision reflected lawmakers' anger at Islamabad over militants who operate out of Pakistan and battle US troops in Afghanistan.
Washington has pressed Pakistan to go after the Haqqani network, which it believes enjoys sanctuaries in Pakistan's unruly ethnic Pashtun tribal region on the Afghan border.
The Senate committee did not specify any amount for economic aid to Pakistan for fiscal 2012, leaving it up to the Obama administration to set the level and notify Congress -- or provide nothing at all.
"If the administration wants to provide zero, that'd be OK with us," said Republican Senator Mark Kirk, one of the more vocal critics of Pakistan on the panel.
The committee did approve USD 1 billion for the Pakistan Counter-insurgency Capability Fund, which was created in 2009 to help Pakistan's military develop counter-insurgency capabilities to fight Islamist militants within its borders.
But the committee voted to make this aid, as well as any economic aid that is provided, conditional on Pakistan's cooperating with Washington against several militant groups.
In addition to the Haqqani network, these groups include al Qaeda and the Quetta Shura -- the remains of the Afghan Taliban government overthrown and driven into Pakistan by the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
They also include Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Punjab-based group blamed for attacks on Mumbai in November 2008.
The restrictions were part of a foreign aid bill that the committee approved and sent to the Senate floor. It will have to be reconciled with the House of Representatives, where lawmakers in one subcommittee have voted similar restrictions.
Pakistan also gets US military aid via the Pentagon budget. But Washington is already withholding USD 800 million of that aid this year as ties have come under mounting strain.
Many lawmakers have been calling for aid to Pakistan to be reduced since US special forces found and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin laden in a Pakistan military town on May 02.
Washington has allocated about USD 20 billion for Pakistan over the last decade. In fiscal 2010, Congress approved USD 1.7 billion for economic aid for Pakistan, and USD 2.7 billion in security aid, the Congressional Research Service says.