Two influential U.S. Senators introduced legislation on Monday that would triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. The measure has the support of President Barack Obama.
The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and the top Republican on the committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana, introduced the bill on the Senate floor.
The measure would triple nonmilitary aid to $1.5 billion annually for five years, and urges an additional five years of funding after that. The money is to be used to build schools, roads and medical clinics.
Senator Kerry said the time had come for a change in U.S. strategy toward Pakistan, with the aim of appealing to the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people. Kerry said that for decades, the United States had sought cooperation from Pakistani decision makers through military aid, while paying little attention to the urgent needs of most Pakistanis.
"As a result, an alarming percentage of the Pakistani population now sees America as a greater threat than al-Qaida," said Senator Kerry. "Until we change that perception, there is frankly very little chance of ending tolerance for terrorist groups."
The legislation was announced two days before President Obama hosts Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, to discuss strategies for ending violence along their two countries' common border. The two governments are fighting renewed Taliban insurgencies in the region.
Senator Kerry warned that Pakistan is at a crucial crossroads.
"Pakistan is a nation which could either serve as a force for stability and progress in a volatile region, or it could become the epicenter for radicalism and violence on a cataclysmic scale," he said.
Senator Lugar noted that the proposed legislation places conditions on U.S. military aid, among other provisions.
"The bill subjects our security assistance to a certification that the Pakistani government is using the money for its intended purpose, namely to combat the Taliban and al-Qaida," said Senator Lugar. "The bill also calls for tangible progress in governance - including an independent judiciary, greater accountability by the central government, respect for human rights and civilian control of the levers of power, including the military and intelligence agency."
The House of Representatives is considering its own version of the legislation.
Senator Kerry said that ultimately it will be the Pakistanis, not the Americans, who will determine their nation's future. But he said the United States can help empower the Pakistanis who are fighting to steer the world's second-largest Muslim majority country onto a path of moderation, stability and regional cooperation.