US Republicans moved on Wednesday to tighten control of assistance to Pakistan and to cut aid to several of Israel’s neighbours, vowing to get tough on militants and tame US spending.
The Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee pushed a range of issues in a spending bill for the fiscal year starting in October, including cutting US contributions to the United Nations and restricting funding for abortion.
But to come into force, Republican lawmakers will need to reach a compromise with the Senate where President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party retains control and is mostly supportive of the administration’s international engagements.
The bill would impose tighter controls on assistance to Pakistan in light of the May 2 raid by US special forces that killed Osama bin Laden and persistent questions about the country’s military and intelligence.
The Obama administration recently suspended about one-third of its $2.7 billion annual defence aid to Pakistan. But it has assured Pakistan it is committed to a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian package approved in 2009 that aims to build schools, infrastructure and democratic institutions.
The Republican bill would also make the civilian aid contingent on measurable progress by Pakistan in fighting militants.
“The language in this bill puts that government on notice that it is no longer business as usual and that they will be held to account if they continue to refuse to cooperate,” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican Chairperson of the House committee.
Representative Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the committee and a main author of the 2009 bill, said he agreed on the need to ‘get tough with Pakistan’ but disagreed on restrictions over civilian aid.
“The key to long-term stability in Pakistan, and the only way we’ll ever get Pakistan to change its behaviour, is by strengthening its civilian institutions – not weakening them as this bill will do,” Berman said.
The House spending bill would also end decades of US security aid to Egypt, where protests swept out President Hosni Mubarak in February, unless the new leaders fully implement a peace treaty with Israel and exclude the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Republicans would also cut off security assistance to Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Yemen if Islamic militant movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas hold any position in government.
“Our goal is to promote democratic governments in these countries and ensure that US taxpayers are not subsidizing groups that seek to undermine US policies, interests and allies,” said Ros-Lehtinen.
The bill would also force the United States to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Like most countries that recognise Israel, the US maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv as it waits for a settlement on hotly contested Jerusalem.
Under the House bill, the president would lose the waiver right in 2014.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2011.