Pakistan is playing down the significance of a proposed suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military assistance, saying bilateral ties are already "on hold" following last month's NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The U.S. House of Representative approved a bill on Wednesday that would freeze $700 million in military aid to Pakistan until Congress gets assurances that Islamabad is helping fight the spread of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that insurgents are increasingly using against coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani government has criticized the move by the U.S. Congress, saying it is not based on facts and takes a "narrow vision of the overall situation."
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar says that the aid suspension is not a matter of concern for her country because the Pakistani parliament is currently redefining future terms of engagement with Washington and international forces following what she called the "unprovoked" cross-border air attack by NATO last month.
"Pakistan is currently going through a process of re-assessment and re-evaluation," said Khar. "And what matters today to Pakistan and to all its institutions is the mandate that will be given by the parliament of Pakistan. So I think we are less concerned about what [the U.S.] Congress is doing today and more concerned about what the parliament of Pakistan is doing today because that is what redefines this relationship."
Pakistan's uneasy relationship with the United States has plunged to new lows since NATO's deadly cross-border air attack in late November. The country has retaliated by cutting supply lines for U.S. and allied forces fighting the Taliban insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan. It has evicted American personnel from an airbase in the country's southwest, and the Pakistani government has asked the parliament to define future terms of anti-terrorism cooperation with both the United States and the coalition forces. The U.S. military and NATO deny Pakistani troops were deliberately targeted in the attack and have launched investigations of the incident.
The Pakistani foreign minister says she is confident that once approved by the country's parliament, the renewed terms of engagement with allied nations, including the United States, will lead to productive relationships.
"It will also strengthen the partnership that we pursue with any country because it will be a partnership which is on a clearly defined mandate, it will be a partnership which has less grey areas and has a clear mandate of the public and parliament of Pakistan and therefore we will be able to pursue this partnership much more vigorously," added Khar.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad issued a clarification Thursday evening, saying reports that Congress has cut $700 million dollars in military aid to Pakistan are not correct. It says that the draft legislation currently under consideration in the U.S. Congress includes a reporting requirement and that once the U.S. secretary of defense certifies that Pakistan is cooperating in the joint efforts to combat IEDs, the funds will be released. It says setting conditions on assistance with reporting requirements is not new, nor is it Pakistan specific.
Taliban insurgents are increasingly using the IEDs to attack U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. American military officials say that most of the material used to make the bombs is coming from Pakistan, charges officials here deny.