Expanded U.S. military aid sought for Pakistan
Friday, October 22, 2010; 9:01 PM
The Obama administration will ask Congress to expand military aid to Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday, announcing a five-year, $2 billion package that would increase current financing for weapons purchases by about one-third.
"The United States has no stronger partner when it comes to counterterrorism efforts against the extremists who threaten us both than Pakistan," Clinton said at the end of a meeting with top Pakistani officials in Washington.
News of the aid came as the Obama administration has moved to cut off assistance to individual Pakistani military units believed responsible for human rights abuses, including the summary execution of alleged insurgents.
The juxtaposition made for an awkward conclusion to the third "strategic dialogue" the administration has held with Pakistan this year as it tries to calibrate policy toward one of its most important allies in the Afghanistan war.
In a White House meeting Wednesday with the Pakistani delegation, including Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the military chief of staff, President Obama praised Pakistan's efforts but said the United States expects a more robust offensive against al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in the tribal areas along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
Obama, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials, repeated a message that has been transmitted several times by the administration: If a terrorist attack on the United States is ever shown to have emanated from Pakistan, the U.S. government will be forced to respond.
The White House session was the centerpiece of the Pakistani visit here and was carefully choreographed to ensure that Obama would meet face to face with Kayani, seen as Pakistan's most powerful figure. Administration officials scheduled a session with the Pakistani delegation - officially headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi - to be held in the Roosevelt Room and arranged for a presidential "drop-by" that lasted about 35 minutes.
The strategic dialogue includes 13 separate task forces to discuss U.S. assistance and cooperation on a range of issues, including energy, agriculture and counterterrorism. The first session, held early this year in Washington, was followed by a second round attended by Clinton in Pakistan this summer. Most of the aid increase announced by Clinton on Friday applies to the State Department-administered Foreign Military Financing program, which gives Pakistan funds to purchase U.S. military equipment. Pakistan receives about $300 million a year in FMF funds; the administration's new request would increase that figure to about $400 million annually for the next five years.
The Pakistani military has sought a multi-year guarantee that would match a five-year package of nonmilitary aid, totaling $7.5 billion, approved by Congress last year. The plan would allow Pakistan to increase U.S.-funded purchases of helicopters and other equipment it calls essential to its counterterrorism fight. Overall U.S. military aid to Pakistan this year totals about $2 billion.
Despite the administration's five-year guarantees, Congress must still authorize both the military and civilian funding in each year's budget, and lawmakers have expressed concern about expanding military aid amid questions about Pakistan's commitment to counterterrorism and repeated reports of human rights abuses by the Pakistani military.
"If there is going to be progress against al-Qaeda, we need the support of the Pakistani army," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said Friday. "But there is a lot of concern with extrajudicial killings by the army that remain unpunished, and this will be a factor when we consider a request for more aid. Respect for our law and the laws of war is fundamental."
Leahy heads the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for State Department funding. He is also the author of a 1997 law that requires the United States to vet the armed forces of countries receiving military aid and to withhold aid to specific units found responsible for human rights abuses. The "Leahy amendment" does not specify the size of a "unit" or require public notification of any cutoffs.