A US House of Representatives panel on Tuesday approved a defence spending bill that would impose limits on American aid to Pakistan. The bill envisages the creation of a special bipartisan group to examine Washington’s future role in the decade-long war in Afghanistan.
The bill endorsed by the House Appropriations Committee would withhold 75 per cent of the $1.1 billion in US aid to Pakistan until the administration reports to Congress on how it would spend the money. The committee on Tuesday went a step further, adopting an amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, that would give Congress 30 days to review the report before deciding whether the money should be spent.
Pakistan’s “performance or non-performance rubs a lot of people the wrong way,” Flake said. The panel approved the amendment by voice vote. Overall, the legislation will provide $530 billion to the Pentagon and $119 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. US President Barack Obama had requested for $9 billion more.
The bill provides the money for the military’s ships, aircraft, tanks and personnel, and largely tracks the defense blueprint that the House approved last month. Washington watchers said it reflects both the war fatigue even among the most hawkish lawmakers and the widespread doubts about Pakistan’s reliability in counter-terrorism. The US raid and killing of Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan has left many lawmakers questioning Islamabad’s eagerness and whether billions in American financial assistance is being wasted. With the Afghanistan war approaching its 10th year, sentiment is growing in Congress for the US to speed up the withdrawal of the 100,000 American troops in the country. The committee adopted an amendment by Rep Frank Wolf, R-Va., that would create an Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group, a bipartisan organisation to conduct an independent assessment of the conflict and US interests.
The group would be modelled on the Iraq Study Group.
In a fresh sign of the war weariness, Rep Norm Dicks of Washington state said the administration “has to accelerate the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.” Dicks said the question is whether the nation helps its citizens or “does nation building.”
“Although we are engaged in wars on several fronts, there is also a battle being waged at home — against skyrocketing, dangerous deficits,” said Rep Hal Rogers, R-Ky, chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2011.