- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009

President Obama on Thursday signed into law a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan as its embattled government and security forces faced the fifth terrorist attack in 11 days.

More than 40 people were reported killed in three attacks by gunmen on police training centers in the eastern city of Lahore and two bombings in the nation’s northwest.

The $7.5 billion aid plan is for civilian projects such as schools. Named after Sens. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, the law will provide money to Pakistan over the next five years.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday that the law “is the tangible manifestation of broad support for Pakistan in the U.S., as evidenced by its bipartisan, bicameral, unanimous passage in Congress.”

Although the bill was supported by Pakistani government officials, it came under fierce criticism from the Pakistani military and members of parliament, who believed U.S. conditions were infringing on Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Among the conditions are demands that Pakistan end support for extremist groups and cooperate with the United States in efforts to dismantle supply networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear-weapons-related materials.

Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi told editors and reporters at The Washington Times earlier this month that the legislation is “the first demonstration of engaging with the people of Pakistan” and said it would support urgent needs in education, health and poverty alleviation.

Mr. Obama did not sign the bill until Congress issued a joint statement of “legislative intent,” promising that conditions in the bill would not infringe on Pakistani politics.

Mr. Qureshi said that fears regarding the aid package were alleviated upon his meeting with Mr. Kerry and Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who explained the language and intentions of the bill.

“This act formalizes that partnership, based on a shared commitment to improving the living conditions of the people of Pakistan through sustainable economic development, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, and combating the extremism that threatens Pakistan and the United States,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Commenting on Thursday’s attacks in Pakistan, White House spokesman Bill Burton said the loss of human life is a key concern of the United States.

“This shows once again that the militants in Pakistan threaten both Pakistan and the United States. And, you know, the president has been impressed by some of the courageous actions that the Pakistani military has taken to root out some of these extremist elements,” Mr. Burton said.

The terrorist offensive comes amid plans by Pakistan’s military to launch a major offensive in South Waziristan, one of seven Pakistani tribal zones that are not under government control. It is also a base for the Pakistani Taliban.

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