U.S. lawmakers welcomed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to Capitol Hill Thursday and vowed to support additional aid to his country. But Congress is reluctant to back one request that Pakistan deems critical to its economic development.
Mr. Musharraf came to Capitol Hill seeking congressional support for further aid to his country.
In an appearance before the House International Relations Committee, he stressed such tangible evidence of U.S. gratitude for Pakistan's cooperation in the anti-terrorism effort is important to the Pakistani people. "The more support they see from the United States to me and my government, the more extremism goes down and my support increases," he said.
Lawmakers appear ready to back President Bush's request for $200 million to Pakistan next year to reduce the country's $3 billion debt by one-third. But they are reluctant to support Islamabad's request for increased access to U.S. markets for Pakistani textiles. Lawmakers from textile-producing states are concerned about protecting the dwindling industry in the United States.
International Relations Committee chairman Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois which is not a textile-producing state, acknowledges it is a difficult issue. "Textiles is a problem with many countries, as well as Pakistan, and our own country, where the textile industry is feeling very besieged," he said. Pakistan argues that increased textile access to U.S. markets is key to stabilizing its economy.
Many U.S. clothing companies canceled contracts with Pakistani suppliers out of concern the U.S.-led military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan would delay shipments. Pakistani officials say the impact has been devastating for their country's labor-intensive textile industry, throwing hundreds of thousands of people out of work.
Although lawmakers praised Mr. Musharraf for cooperating in fighting terrorism, one lawmaker expressed concern over reports Pakistan had sought to condition its support on the exclusion of India and Israel. Congressman Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, said, "Mr. President, let me be clear: we hope and fully expect that Pakistan will support the participation of all nations in the war on terrorism, but most particularly the democracies like India and Israel."
Mr. Musharraf denied ever making such comments, but acknowledged that full cooperation with India would be difficult. "The only concern we ever showed was, in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan, we would not like India to be using our territory or using our airspace because that is an extremely contentious issue," he said. "Otherwise, to fight terrorism around the world, we most welcome any and all countries to join in."
Mr. Musharraf underscored that he will continue to crack down on Islamic extremists in his country. In his words, the only jihad in Pakistan is the one against poverty, corruption, illiteracy and disease.
The Pakistani leader, who seized power in a 1999 coup, also reiterated his commitment to holding local and national elections in October.