Move against fund to Pakistan foiled in US Congress

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WASHINGTON: A move in the US Congress to prohibit assistance to Pakistan has been defeated by a clear majority as American lawmakers underlined the importance of their bilateral ties with Islamabad.

Last month, Tennessee Republican Andy Ogles proposed an amendment to the US Appropriations bill, seeking to bar US defence assistance to Pakistan to discourage the ongoing crackdown on political dissent.

The move was put to vote recently earlier this week and was defeated by a clear majority. A total of 298 lawmakers voted against the proposed amendment while 132 voted in its favour.

During the debate, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congresswoman Barbara Lee argued in favour of continuing assistance to Pakistan. Sheila Jackson said the move was “misguided” and what the movers argued “does not reflect the government and people of Pakistan”.

She noted that over the years both the United States and Pakistan had built a “multifaceted and diverse relationship” driven by cooperation in areas such as defence, counterterrorism, trade, investment, and education.

Sheila Jackson says the move was ‘misguided’

“During the intense phases of the Afghan war, many Pakistani soldiers lost their lives fighting terrorism,” she said.

“Our cooperation is rooted in our shared democratic values.”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee argued that the US assistance to Pakistan was “essential to maintain stability in the region, address extremism and promote peace and security.”

US aid and assistance to Pakistan, she said, was “not just strategically significant” but also reflected “our humanitarian concern for those who have suffered from the devastation” caused by last year’s floods.

In FY 2024, $135 million has been earmarked for Pakistan to be spent for economic support, a health programme, military education and training, and to counter narcotics and terrorism.

Congressman Ogles, in his statement, criticised former prime minister Imran Khan for welcoming Taliban’s victory in August 2021 and praising them for breaking the shackles of slavery. He also made some baseless accusations against Pak­istan dating back to the period before 2021.

Productive engagement

Ambassador Masood Khan said this was the right decision by US Congress and “reflects the current phase of positive and productive engagement” between Pakistan and the United States in multiple domains. “We should build on this foundation to take our relationship to higher levels,” he said.

During the debate over the National Defence Authorisation Act earlier this summer, Democratic Rep. Greg Casar of Texas pushed an amendment that would direct the State Department to study backsliding of democracy in Pakistan, but it wasn’t ruled in order for a vote on the floor of the House.

The annual appropriations legislation allows the continuation of foreign military financing for Pakistan to support counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency capabilities in the country as well as bilateral economic assistance.

But prior to the obligation of funds, the US Secretary of State shall submit a report to congressional committees detailing the amount of financing and other support, by the government of Pakistan to schools supported by, affiliated with, or run by the Taliban or any domestic or foreign terrorist organisation in Pakistan.

The secretary shall also inform Congress if Islamabad is cooperating with Washington in issuing visas in a timely manner for US visitors and providing humanitarian organisations access to detainees, internally displaced persons, and other Pakistani civilians affected by conflicts in Pakistan and the region.

The secretary shall also inform Congress “of the extent” to which the Pakistani government is strengthening democracy in the country.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2023