ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: The US Senate on Thursday passed the National Defense Authorisation Act for the fiscal year 2012 with 86 senators voting for, and 13 against the bill, agreeing to freeze close to $700 million in aid to Pakistan.
Prior to the passage of the bill, the Senators debated the language and clauses pertaining to military detention of individuals in terrorism-related charges. The bill will now be sent to the White House for President Obama’s signature before it becomes law.
The bill, which also places sanctions on Iran, calls for a hold on 60 per cent of Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund over the issue of Pakistan failing to act against the flow of IEDs, and raw materials for bombs.
The bill requires that the Secretary of Defense submit a report “that would” include a strategy for enhancing Pakistan‘s efforts to counter improvised explosive devices (IED) and information on whether Pakistan is making significant efforts to implement a strategy to counter IEDs.”
Earlier, the White House had announced it would veto the NDAA due to clauses pertaining to the detention of US citizens in terror-related charges. On Wednesday, after the House and Senate representatives changed the language of the bill in conference meetings, the White House announced it would not veto the bill after it was passed by Senate.
Addressing the State Department press briefing on Thursday, spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, “What this piece of legislation requires is that the Administration make certain certifications as to how our general relationship with Pakistan is going in certain categories in order to release the money, but this is not about cutting funding or freezing funding.”
She explained that the bill would not whole sole end aid to Pakistan, that it only added a certification requirement to release aid. “We’re working on setting the funding levels with the Congress. It is about imposing on the Administration certain certification requirements before we would release the money that the Congress would give. This is very similar to procedures that we have on other kinds of money for countries around the world,”Nuland said, adding “In addition, I would say that they usually include some kind of waiver authorities for the Secretary.”
Addressing some suggestions in part of the Pakistani press that the certifications may be yet another form of impingement of Pakistan’s sovereignty, she said “And I’d also like to say that this in no way impinges on Pakistani sovereignty. We’ve seen some strange assertions in the Pakistani press, which are inaccurate.”
The US Embassy in Islamabad has also issued a press release to “clarify” the contents of the bill. According to the press release, the bill does not cut assistance, but includes a reporting requirement. “Once the Secretary of Defense certifies that Pakistan is cooperating in our joint efforts to combat improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the funds will be released. Assistance conditioned to reporting requirements is not new, nor are such reporting requirements specific to Pakistan. This is standard practice in nearly every country that receives US military assistance.”
Updated from Print Edition (below):
After days of hammering out the details of the National Defence Authorisation Act 2011, the US House of Representatives voted 283-136 to pass the bill that calls for a major chunk of military assistance to Pakistan to be frozen.
The Senate also voted on Thursday 86-13 to pass the bill. It now only awaits the US president’s signature for authorisation. The bill would freeze roughly $700 million in aid to Pakistan pending assurances that Islamabad has taken steps to thwart militants who use improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against US-led forces in Afghanistan.
The bill calls for only 40% of Pakistan Counterinsurgency Funds to be released – the rest of the amount can only be released after the Department of Defence issues a report stating that Pakistan has made progress in stemming the flow of ammonium nitrate and IEDs.
Govt criticises US move
Pakistan strongly criticised on Thursday the Congress legislation to block aid in a latest sign of simmering tensions between the two uneasy allies.
“We believe that the move in the US Congress is not based on facts and takes narrow vision of the overall situation hence wrong conclusions are unavoidable,” foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told reporters on Thursday during the weekly FO briefing.
However, the US embassy in Islamabad was quick to downplay the Congress move. A statement pointed out that the current draft of the Act does not cut $700 million in military aid to Pakistan. Rather, it includes a reporting requirement, it added.
“In this instance, once the defence secretary certifies that Pakistan is cooperating in our joint efforts to combat improvised explosive devices, the funds will be released,” the statement said.
It went on to say that assistance conditioned to reporting requirements is not new, nor are such reporting requirements specific to Pakistan.
“This is standard practice in nearly every country that receives US military assistance.”
Aid cut linked to Pakistan’s reaction to Nato attack?
However, the development is seen as being linked with Pakistan’s sharp reaction to last month’s Nato attacks that killed 24 soldiers.
The November 26 incident prompted Islamabad to shut down Nato supplies and review the decade-old cooperation with the US.
Basit said Pakistan is in process of “reviewing our terms of engagement with US, Nato and Isaf in their entirety.” “Let me emphasise the issue of Pakistan’s sovereignty, is non-negotiable,” he added.
“I think the real question has to be what has been done on the Afghan side of the border,” he said. “Pakistan cannot be held responsible for weaknesses and loopholes on the other side of the border,” he added.
Bill calls for indefinite detention of US citizens
The bill also contains clauses pertaining to the military detention of civilians in terror-related charges.
Earlier, human rights organisations and several members of Congress had expressed reservations that the bill would allow the indefinite detention of US citizens.
The House and Senate committee worked to change the language of the bill, after which the White House announced on Wednesday that it would not be vetoing the bill.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2011.