A powerful US Congressional committee on Thursday approved legislation that would triple economic aid to Pakistan at $1.5 billion a year over the next five years, but imposed conditions that include prevention of "cross border attacks into neighbouring countries" by Islamabad.
Under pressure from the Pakistan lobby, the House foreign affairs committee backed away from a specific mention of India that was contained in the original draft under pressure from Pakistan lobbyists and President Obama himself, according to several reports.
Approving for passage the Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement (PEACE) Act 2009, the committee sought to bar Pakistan's military or its intelligence wing ISI from supporting extremists or terrorist groups. It also wants Islamabad to provide "direct access to Pakistani nationals" connected with nuclear proliferation networks – a clear reference to renegade scientist Abdul Quadir Khan, who continues to enjoy government protection.
The PEACE act, introduced by Howard L Berman, chairman of the committee, aims to help stabilise Pakistan's civilian government and support national and provincial institutions, as well as strengthen Pakistan's education and judicial systems. Under debate since on 2 April, the bill will now go to the floor of the House of Representatives for passage.
It aims to establish a 'Pakistan democracy and prosperity fund' for non-military aid, and intensifies a focus on access to education for women and girls in Pakistan. On the military front, it seeks to bolster the capabilities of Pakistan's army and special forces to battle the Taliban and other extremist groups.
Berman said the legislation underscores the importance of Pakistan's fight against extremism. "All of us are deeply concerned about the stability and security of that country. We cannot allow al-Qaida or any other terrorist group that threatens sour national security to operate with impunity in the tribal regions of Pakistan, nor can we permit the Pakistani state and its nuclear arsenal to be taken over by the Taliban," he said.
Under the bill, the US president would have to report on whether Pakistan has demonstrated a sustained commitment to and made progress toward combating terrorist groups, including ending support by any elements in Pakistan's military or intelligence agencies to extremist and terrorist groups.
Pakistan would also have to be shown to have closed terrorist camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA], dismantled terrorist bases in other areas, and strengthened counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering laws.
A Q Khan under scanner
Berman opposed an amendment by Republican Representative Michael McCaul to mention A Q Khan by name, saying that doing so would undermine US efforts to build a new partnership with Pakistan.
McCaul withdrew his amendment in exchange for Berman's agreement to require that Pakistan provide direct access to Pakistani nationals, and to report the bill to the full House with language noting that this refers to Khan.
The measure provides authority to the president to make exceptions in the interest of national security, but it excludes from restrictions US military aid for enhancing the ability of the Pakistan Frontier Corps to conduct counterterrorism operations along the border with Afghanistan.
Other sensitive conditions require that any direct US assistance on or after 1 January, 2010 be provided to a freely-elected government of Pakistan. The bill also prohibits use of funds to purchase or upgrade Pakistani F-16 fighter aircraft and munitions.
The measure also requires an assessment of Pakistani steps to close terrorist camps, including those of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Lashkar-e-Taiba, and increase oversight over curriculum in Islamic madrasas.
Committee approval sets up debate and a vote by the full House of Representatives following the upcoming congressional recess. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.