U.S. military officials appealed on Wednesday for more flexibility in proposed legislation that would greatly increase economic and military aid to Pakistan. Officials appearing before the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee emphasized the fragility of the situation in Pakistan and urged lawmakers to trust the U.S. military to hold itself and Pakistan accountable for progress, rather than set rigid conditions.
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy reflected heightened concern in the U.S. military establishment about Pakistan's ability to deal effectively with an intensifying insurgency.
Amid what she called a "deteriorating situation," Flournoy said many Pakistani civilians and political leaders fear violent retaliation if they openly oppose extremist groups.
All of this, she said, underscores the urgency of enabling the Obama administration to proceed with the initial steps of its plan to strengthen the U.S.-Pakistan partnership.
"We believe that right now it is more important than ever to strengthen our military partnership with Pakistan. We share common interests. If the militants were to cause the Pakistani government to falter, this would be as devastating to the Pakistani people and security forces as it would be for us," she said.
Congressional committees are in the process of finalizing legislation that would provide billions of dollars in security and economic assistance to Pakistan during the next five years, but set specific benchmarks to measure progress.
Since the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington, the United States has given Pakistan more than $11 billion in economic and security assistance.
In addition to counter-terrorism Coalition Support Funds, the Obama administration wants $400 million in emergency funds this year for a Pakistan Counter-Insurgency Capability Fund.
But U.S. military officials worry that conditions in the proposed House version of aid legislation would be counterproductive.
"We believe that publicly attaching conditions to our support will be detrimental to building Pakistani will to fight [the insurgency]. And it will ultimately erode the trust that we are trying to build between our two nations," said Navy Vice Admiral James Winnefeld, Director of Strategic Plans and Policy for the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Undersecretary Flournoy described wording in a House measure regarding presidential certifications as too inflexible, asserting that it would reduce the military's ability to adapt to changing circumstances in Pakistan.
Saying Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen outlined concerns in a letter to the Armed Services Committee, she suggested that Congress should leave responsibility for monitoring progress to the U.S. military.
"We are committed to continuously evaluating our own performance as well as that of our Pakistani partners, and to that end we are developing measures of effectiveness that will allow us and you to hold us and our Pakistani partners accountable," he said.
U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus would manage the new counter-insurgency fund. But persuading House and Senate lawmakers to place all of their trust in the military for accountability will not be easy.
John McHugh, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, echoed the concerns voiced by the witnesses.
"I think it is fair to say that unlike its Senate counterpart, this particular bill calls for what can be fairly described as heavy limitations and conditions on U.S. security assistance to Pakistan. Some have expressed concern that I share that this proposal as currently drafted is disrespectful to Pakistan's sovereignty, and would unnecessarily constrain the Department of Defense amidst what is fairly described as an already fluid and dynamic situation in Pakistan," he said.
Representative McHugh pointed to what he called "indications of efforts underway" in the House Appropriations Committee to impose a larger State Department role in the proposed counter-insurgency program.
Committee Chairman, Democrat Ike Skelton sought clarification on this point from Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher.
SKELTON: "There is some debate here in Congress about whether this authority should be granted to the Department of Defense or the Department of State."
BOUCHER: "The decisions was made to go for the route that we felt most suited the program in the present circumstance and most suited the need to get urgent approval for flexible funding mechanism that would accomplish what this program could accomplish, meaning get it up and running quickly."
Vice Admiral Winnefeld said that while the United States has made some progress in helping Pakistan's Frontier Corps, Special Forces and regular army, the pace and scope of these efforts need to be increased. He said that fighting between Pakistani and Taliban forces in Buner province would be a crucial test.
In a Pentagon discussion on Wednesday with journalists, U.S. Marine Corps Commandant General James Conway said he believes that Pakistan's military might now recognize the threat posed by al-Qaida supported Taliban forces.
"I sense that [Pakistani Army Chief] General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani at least senses that the Taliban advances, and again I think the al-Qaida inspiration [of the Taliban], represents to Pakistan an existential threat. And so, how they deal with that is going to be, I think, very important and pretty educational for us all over the next few weeks," he said.
There has been intense debate in Congress over whether to use the Obama administration's $83-billion Afghanistan-Iraq war supplemental request to provide emergency funding for the new counter-insurgency fund for Pakistan and other assistance.