In a gesture to Pakistan for its support for U.S. efforts to fight terrorism, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved by voice vote a bill suspending the remaining sanctions against Islamabad, for up to two years. The measure, which was passed by the Senate earlier this month, now goes to President Bush for his signature.
The measure calls for lifting sanctions imposed after the 1999 coup that overthrew a democratic government and brought General Pervez Musharraf to power. The move would clear the way for the United States to provide economic and military assistance to Islamabad.
The measure would waive such restrictions on aid for the current year. It would be up to President Bush to waive them a second consecutive year if he determines that that would help Pakistan move to democratic rule and fight terrorism.
Republican Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois, Chairman of the International Relations Committee, said U.S. support for Pakistan is crucial at this particular moment.
"Our military is in the air over Afghanistan as we speak," he said. "Our forces are depending on Pakistani facilities and intelligence. Our assistance to Pakistan helps ensure the stability of the government of an ally and the welfare of its people."
Passage of the bill came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Pakistan and praised General Musharraf's commitment to fighting terrorism.
The Pakistani leader has offered support to the U.S.-led air campaign over Afghanistan, despite sometimes violent protests throughout his country by Islamic militants opposed to the action.
Congressman Tom Lantos of California, the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee, referred to situation the Pakistani government faces in underscoring his support for the legislation. He said a battle is being waged for the future of Pakistan.
"It is a battle against the destructive and anarchist forces of religious fanaticism and violence which seem to capitalize on the despair of the poor," he said. "It is a battle that President Musharraf must win to restore hope to the people of Pakistan, and to secure the future for the children of Pakistan. It is vital that the United States demonstrate to the people and government of Pakistan our commitment to help them secure that future as long as Pakistan continues its commitment to eradicate international terrorism."
Not all lawmakers supported lifting the sanctions, known as section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act. Democrat Frank Pallone of New Jersey opposed the bill because of Pakistan's links to the Taleban, its nuclear capabilities, and its lack of democratic rule.
"Due to the deep ties between Pakistan and the Taleban, and the Taleban and [Osama] bin Laden, I feel that it is in the best interest of the United States to uphold the current policy of restricting military assistance at this time," he said. "Given Pakistan's instability, nuclear proliferation and capabilities and current military rule, I do not see a reasonable argument for compromising our democratic values by waving section 508."
But the majority ruled, and backed the bill.
Last month, President Bush lifted sanctions on both Pakistan and India that were imposed after the countries' conducted their first nuclear tests in 1998.