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US Congress Approves Tripling of Aid to Pakistan

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The U.S. Congress has approved legislation to triple non-military assistance to Pakistan during the next five years. A voice vote by the House of Representatives sent a compromise measure approved last week by the U.S. Senate to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature.

Congressional approval comes at an important moment for the Obama administration, as it wrestles with how to move forward in Afghanistan, which is facing a growing Taliban insurgency based in and supplied from neighboring Pakistan.

Under the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, aid would increase to $1.5 billion a year between 2010 and 2014 for various development projects, including efforts to improve education, democratic institutions, human rights, and conditions for women and children.

But while focused on development, the legislation comes with strict conditions regarding security aid that were the subject of intense negotiations with the White House and the Pentagon.

Democrat Howard Berman heads the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.

"Beginning in fiscal year 2011, military assistance may only be provided to Pakistan, if the president determines that the government of Pakistan is continuing to cooperate with the U.S. in preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and has both demonstrated a sustained commitment to combating terrorist groups and has made significant efforts towards that end," said Howard Berman.

The bill prohibits security-related aid and arms transfers, unless Pakistan demonstrates continuing cooperation in dismantling nuclear supplier networks, makes significant efforts to fight terrorist groups and ensures that Pakistani security forces do not subvert political or judicial processes.

The bill requires Pakistan to act against extremist groups on its soil, and specifically mentions Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the latter of which is blamed for the 2008 terrorist attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai.

The legislation says Pakistan must prevent groups from carrying out cross-border attacks into neighboring countries, close terrorist camps in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Area, and dismantle terrorist bases in other areas including Quetta and Muridke.

Not included is a provision that would have created economic opportunity zones in border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan from which goods could be imported to the United States duty-free.

Supporters of that provision, which originated in the House of Representatives, hoped that such a step would improve economic opportunities for people subject to Taliban and other extremist influences, and said they hope it will re-emerge as part of other legislation.

Republicans, who earlier had asserted that conditions in the House version of the bill amounted to micromanaging U.S. support for Pakistan, eventually supported the legislation.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, ranking Republican on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, pointed to more balanced language supported by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen, on subjects ranging from nonproliferation issues to counter-terrorism, and strong accountability standards.

"The new text requires [that] before any economic assistance to Pakistan can be released that the administration submit a Pakistan Assistance Strategy Report, including a description of the principle objectives of U.S. assistance, a detailed spending plan and a plan for program monitoring," said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Some Democrats and Republicans voiced skepticism that additional assistance would bring about any change in Pakistan's domestic situation or its willingness to confront extremist groups.

Here are Democrat Gary Ackerman, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, and Republican Ed Royce:

ACKERMAN: "I fear again we are choosing to be Pakistan's patron rather than its partner. In the end, Pakistan will absorb what we offer and remain the same Pakistan and worst of all they will claim once again that we have failed them. But we have no choice but to pass this bill."

ROYCE: "I have concerns about establishing too big a footprint in Pakistan, in other words, the so-called 'diplomatic surge'. The fact is that if the U.S isn't welcomed in much of Pakistan, it may not be the case that this addition of personnel on the ground is helpful."

The Obama administration strongly supports the legislation, which contains waiver authorities empowering the president to ignore provisions in the interest of national security.

The expanded aid comes on top of at least $12 billion in economic and security assistance the United States has given Pakistan since the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

With hundreds of millions of additional dollars, the United States is also funding a new joint Counter-Insurgency Capability Fund designed to help Pakistan's military, special forces and border troops act against extremist groups.