- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

UPDATED:

Congress moved Wednesday to soften opposition in Pakistan to a U.S. aid package over conditions for receiving future assistance, including $7.5 billion for civilian reconstruction and job-creation projects over a five-year period.

The bill already has been approved by Congress and is at the White House awaiting President Obama’s signature, so any changes in the legislation would be next to impossible.

Instead, Congress issued a joint explanatory statement explaining the legislative intent of the bill.

After a meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and a co-author of the legislation, said the statement was issued “to set the record straight.”

He emphasized that the legislation in no way sought to “compromise Pakistan’s sovereignty, impinge on Pakistan’s national security interests, or micromanage any aspect of Pakistani military or civilian operations.”

A Pakistani Embassy spokesman told The Washington Times that the explanatory statement “addresses concerns the government of Pakistan had with language used in the legislation.”

The statement notes that ” no conditions” have been placed on the Pakistani government for delivery of the $7.5 billion.

Mr. Qureshi returned to Washington this week after a high-profile visit here last week — in which he praised the bill — to convey the Pakistani parliament and military’s anger over conditions in the legislation.

Pakistan’s military is especially worried about conditions in the bill that link the flow of future aid to verifications that Pakistan is delivering in the war against the Taliban, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

In an interview with The Washington Times last week, Mr. Qureshi insisted that these conditions reflected Pakistan’s own policy.

The secretary of state is required to make periodic certifications of Pakistan’s cooperation in the fight against militants. The statement clarified that the “only accounting requirements are of the U.S. executive branch.”

Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, who is an author of the legislation, said the statement was ” a reflection of our desire to be long-term partners with the Pakistani people.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee spokeswoman Lynne Weil described as a ” myth” claims circulating in Islamabad that the bill conditions assistance upon such factors as promotions of officers in the military.

The language in the bill reflects lawmakers’ concerns that U.S. aid is used for the intended purpose.

“We are not in the habit of giving money for people to use as they choose,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee spokesman Frederick Jones told The Washington Times.

In a July report for Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government — “U.S. Aid to Pakistan: U.S. Taxpayers Have Funded Pakistani Corruption” — author Azeem Ibrahim said, ” It seems that Pakistan’s military and security services have for many years been a black hole for U.S. funds.”

The report covered the more than $10 billion in U.S. aid that was given under the administration of President Pervez Musharraf.

The Harvard report found that the Pakistani military did not use most of the funds to fight terrorists. Instead, Pakistan purchased conventional military equipment including F-16 jets, anti-ship and anti-missile defense systems, and an air defense radar system that cost $200 million, despite the fact that militants in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan have no air or missile attack capability.

Pakistani officials deny that aid was misspent.

Some in Congress who worked closely on drafting the legislation had worried about the response it would receive in Pakistan.

“Keeping these concerns in mind, they tried to soften the language in the bill at the time of reconciliation” of the Senate and House versions of the legislation, Mr. Jones said.

In Washington, questions have been raised about how the money will be disbursed. C. Stuart Callison, a senior economist at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in a memo warned the United States against trying to micromanage aid to Pakistan.

“Based on past experience in Pakistan, very few Pakistani firms and [nongovernmental organizations] can currently satisfy the stringent financial management audit requirements for USAID project funding,” Mr. Callison wrote.

The contents of the leaked memo were first reported by USA Today.

Mr. Obama has until Friday to sign the bill, which was passed by Congress on Sept. 30. The legislation was sent to the president on Oct. 5. Under the Constitution, the bill automatically becomes law if the president does not either sign or veto it within 10 days.

“We are pushing up against that deadline,” Mr. Jones said.