U.S. lawmakers freeze $700 million to Pakistan, ties strained
Tue Dec 13, 2011 6:50pm GMT
By Qasim Nauman and Augustine Anthony
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A U.S. Congressional panel has frozen $700 million
(450 million pounds) in aid to Pakistan until it gives assurances it is
helping fight the spread of homemade bombs in the region, a move one
Pakistani senator called unwise and likely to strain ties further.
Pakistan is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid and the
cutback announced is only a small proportion of the billions in civil and
military assistance it gets each year.
But it could presage even greater cuts. The aid freeze targets funds used to
fight Taliban insurgents.
Calls are growing in the United States to penalise Islamabad for failing to
act against militant groups and, at worst, helping them, after the secret
U.S. raid on a Pakistan garrison town in which al Qaeda leader Osama bin
Laden was killed in May.
Salim Saifullah, chairman of Pakistan's Senate foreign relations committee,
warned that relations, which are already at a low point, could worsen
further following the decision by the U.S. House-Senate panel.
"I don't think this is a wise move. It could hurt ties. There should instead
be efforts to increase cooperation. I don't see any good coming out of
this," Saifullah told Reuters.
Homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), are among militants'
most effective weapons against U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan as
they struggle to fight a resurgent Taliban insurgency.
Many are made using ammonium nitrate, a common fertiliser smuggled across
the border from Pakistan.
The freeze on U.S. aid was agreed as part of a defence bill that is expected
to be passed this week.
The United States wants "assurances that Pakistan is countering improvised
explosive devices in their country that are targeting our coalition forces",
Representative Howard McKeon, a House Republican, told reporters.
The United States has allocated some $20 billion in security and economic
aid to Pakistan since 2001, much of it in the form of reimbursements for
assistance in fighting militants.
But U.S. lawmakers have expressed increasing frustration with Pakistan's
efforts in the war.
There have been many proposals to make U.S. aid to Pakistan conditional on
more cooperation in fighting militants such as the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani
network, which Washington believes operates out of Pakistan and battles U.S.
troops in Afghanistan.
But Pakistan's civilian leaders have in the past warned against aid cuts,
saying it would only harden public opinion against the United States.
Pakistan says it is doing all it can to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban and
has lost thousands of soldiers since it joined the U.S.-led war in 2001,
some of them at the hands of coalition troops.
Islamabad has accused NATO of deliberately killing 24 Pakistani soldiers in
an air strike near the Afghan border last month and shut down supplies for
foreign troops in Afghanistan in anger.
"I must say that the aerial attacks on our army border posts on November 26,
2011, constituted a huge setback to the prospects of much needed cooperation
between all important stakeholders," Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told a
gathering of Pakistani ambassadors to other countries.
The decision to freeze aid could prompt Pakistan to harden its stance
"I think the Pakistan side will understand the type of signal that is
coming, which shows it's not only a question of aid," former general and
security analyst Talat Masood said.
"The whole attitude of the U.S. and the relationship will be affected by
these measures because they know Pakistan will not be in a position to
control the smuggling."
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Abdul Basit, also suggested pressure
from the United States would hurt ties, saying Islamabad believes "in
U.S. lawmakers said many Afghan bombs are made with fertiliser smuggled by
militants across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
"The vast majority of the material used to make improvised explosive devices
used against U.S. forces in Afghanistan originates from two fertiliser
factories inside Pakistan," Republican Senator John McCain said in the
Senate last week.
A Congressional Research Service report in October said the Pakistani
factories, owned by one of the country's biggest companies, Pakarab, have
been producing over 300,000 metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate per year since
The United States has urged Pakistan to regulate the distribution of
ammonium nitrate to Afghanistan strictly. So far, Pakistan has only produced
draft legislation on the issue.
Analysts say U.S. demands will be tough to meet because of rampant
corruption on both sides of the porous border that makes smuggling easy.
One businessman explained how easy it is to get through security.
"We pay a 1,200-rupee ($13) bribe to the Pakistani Frontiers Corps on the
border for every car carrying fertiliser," said Kamal Khan in the border
town of Chaman.
"Fertiliser is smuggled on trucks, pickup trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and
Pakistan's fragile economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, so cutting
down on fertiliser output would hurt the sector.
The provision freezing $700 million in aid was agreed upon by leaders of the
armed services committees from both parties in the House and Senate,
including McCain. It is part of compromise legislation authorizing U.S.
defence programmes expected to be approved this week, McKeon said.
The bill would also require the Pentagon to deliver a strategy for improving
the effectiveness of U.S. aid to Pakistan, he said.
(Additional reporting by Saeed Ali Achakzai in CHAMAN and Susan Cornwell in
WASHINGTON; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Paul Tait)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Tue Dec 13 2011 - 14:59:34 EST