Administration to ask for more Pakistan aid

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 23, 2010; A8

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.

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.

Human rights groups accused the Pakistani military of abuses in a counterterrorism offensive in the Swat Valley. Last month, a video surfaced on YouTube showing soldiers in Pakistani army uniforms firing at a half-dozen blindfolded prisoners. After the prisoners fell to the ground, one soldier walked among them and delivered coups de grace.

Kayani subsequently issued a directive saying that abuses would not be tolerated and launching an investigation of the acts depicted on the video. The results of that investigation are not known.

But the administration has told Congress in recent weeks that it has already withheld aid to about a half-dozen Pakistani military units that it determined had violated human rights rules. No details have been provided of the move, which was first reported Friday by the New York Times.

In Islamabad, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the Pakistani army, said the army had not been told of any sanctions. "The problem is we don't have a formal communication from that side," Abbas said. "It is only through the media that we are learning this, and it would be inappropriate to respond until we get clarification."

He said the committee investigating the video, led by a two-star general, would soon issue a report.

"We have already declared a zero tolerance where such unlawful activities are concerned," Abbas said. "In the past, we've had a strict reaction to violations. The bottom line is that we must always carry the public opinion with us for a sustainable success and victory in these operations. Anything that can jeopardize public support is completely detrimental to our cause."

Staff writer David Nakamura in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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