WASHINGTON: A US Senate panel voted cuts in aid to Pakistan on Tuesday and threatened to withhold even more cash if Islamabad does not reopen its supply routes for Nato soldiers in Afghanistan, reflecting American frustration over the months-long standoff.
The action by the Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid followed a weekend Nato summit in Chicago at which Washington had hoped to reach a deal with Islamabad to end the supply line dispute.
Pakistan had closed the supply routes through its territory to Afghanistan in protest when US aircraft killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border last November. Nato has been compensating through expanded shipments of war supplies via Afghanistan's other neighbors, the Northern Distribution Network, but those routes are more expensive.
On Tuesday, the Senate panel voted to cut aid to Pakistan by 58 per cent in fiscal 2013 from the request by the administration of President Barack Obama, said the panel's chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat like Obama.
The senators voted $1 billion for Pakistan, including $800 million in foreign aid. However, funding for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund was reduced to just $50 million, and subjected it to the reopening of supply lines', said Senator Lindsey Graham, the panel's top Republican.
"We're not going to be giving money to an ally that won't be an ally," Graham told reporters.
The counterinsurgency fund was established several years ago to help train and equip Pakistan's military.
The funding cut though must still be approved by the full Senate and the House of Representatives before it can become law. But criticism of Pakistan in Congress and demands for a complete aid cutoff have been growing, especially after Osama bin Laden was found and killed by US forces in Abbottabad a little more than a year ago.
Pakistan has been one of the leading recipients of US foreign aid and in recent years. US lawmakers have approved more than $20 billion in aid and reimbursements since 2001.
The administration had suspended $800 million in aid for Pakistan's military last year, but American officials have suggested the aid could be restored if Pakistan displays more commitment to counter-terrorism operations.
Range of aid cuts
The panel also voted to eliminate funding for a police training program for Iraq, saying the danger and expense were just too great after the American troop pullout last year.
"Why keep throwing good money after bad?" asked Leahy.
The panel refused to provide $850 million that President Barack Obama's administration requested for fiscal year 2013 for the program, in which US security advisers are training Iraqi police. It has been seen as a key component of the US civilian aid mission to Iraq now that US troops are gone.
The cut was part of an attempted re-ordering of US aid priorities by the Senate appropriators in a time of budget austerity. The lawmakers opted to slash US aid programs in battle-scarred countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to preserve some cash for foreign aid elsewhere.
Aid to Pakistan and Iraq have been controversial for some time in Congress. But Leahy said: "There is less and less support for giving aid to Afghanistan."
"I've asked them (the State Department) to look at what aid programs are sustainable," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"If the idea is you can have two aid workers, provided you have 20 highly paid security people, I don't see that that accomplishes a great deal," Leahy said.
The Senate foreign aid subcommittee approved a total of $52.1 billion for the State Department and US foreign aid for fiscal 2013 that starts in October. That was $2.6 billion below the Obama administration's request. House appropriators recently approved even less money - $48.3 billion.
The senators subtracted $5 million from aid provided to Egypt, to reimburse the US Treasury for money it paid to bail out US pro-democracy activists facing charges there earlier this year.
"I'll be darned if I am going to give them (the Egyptian government) that money," Leahy said.