WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Tuesday defended aid to Pakistan amid calls from senators for a full review of whether economic and military assistance there serves the US national interest.
Aid to Pakistan is the new divisive political buzz-phrase in Washington.
As calls from senators for a full review of economic and military assistance to Pakistan grows to a clamour, the US State Department on Tuesday defended aid to the country.
“We believe our assistance to Pakistan still continues to provide dividends for the American people in trying to grow and strengthen Pakistan’s democratic institutions, boost its economy,” said spokesman Mark Toner.
“In the long term, those are the kinds of things we’re seeking to achieve,” he told reporters a day after Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham made a call for re-evaluating the aid.
His comments came shortly after US Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein said that cutting assistance to Pakistan would be unhelpful but warned that calls to do so had strong congressional support.
“I don’t think that’s useful,” she told reporters, but added “if a bill were to come to the floor which fenced money, it would have a good chance of passing”.
US lawmakers have expressed mounting anger at Pakistan, accusing military and intelligence officials there of supporting the Haqqani network blamed for attacks on US forces and targets in Afghanistan.
“I can only express my profound disappointment with the relationship” and the “deterioration” in an already troubled alliance that “goes up and down, and up and down, and up and down,” she said.
Bilateral relations slid to a new low last month when Nato air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border, prompting Pakistan to boycott an international conference in Bonn on Afghanistan’s future.
“This is a very complex relationship,” Toner said, adding that the deadly border incident “was difficult for the Pakistani people, for the Pakistani government”.
“They have reacted in a way that shows how important and how significant this tragedy was for them,” Toner said.
“It’s absolutely essential that Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US, other international partners, work through this and beyond. It’s in all our interests.”
Hawks and doves
While hawks call for slashing aid to Pakistan, there are voices of reconciliation in the US Congress.
A congressman from Ohio called on his government to apologise to Pakistan, and for Nato to pay compensation to the families of 24 soldiers killed in the air strike.
Speaking at an event organised by the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) Congressman Dennis J Kucinich, a Republican, said relations with Pakistan was a critical issue. “We need to apologise to the people of Pakistan, Nato must pay reparations to the families of the soldiers.” AFP (WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY HUMA IMTIAZ IN WASHINGTON)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2011.