- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009

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

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

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

Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 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 spokesman asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The statement says that “no conditions” have been placed on the Pakistani government for delivery of the $7.5 billion - the distinction being that conditions are placed by Congress on the U.S. executive branch.

Mr. Qureshi returned to Washington after a high-profile visit to the U.S. capital last week - in which he praised the bill - to convey the Pakistani parliament’s 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 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.

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

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 given to the administration of former President Pervez Musharraf.

The Harvard report found the Pakistani military did not use most of the funds to fight terrorism. 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 aid was misspent.

President Obama has until Friday to sign the bill, which Congress sent to him on Oct. 5. Under the Constitution, the bill automatically becomes law if the president does not either sign or veto it within 10 days.