May 21, 2012 – 10:58 p.m.
Pakistan Aid Restrictions Considered
By Emily Cadei, CQ Staff
The Obama administration continues to face headwinds in its monthslong effort to restore formal relations with Pakistan, and Congress is not helping matters.
Instead, lawmakers are threatening to roil the bilateral relationship further with proposals to severely restrict or cut off several types of U.S. assistance.
The House has included strict Pakistan-related provisions in three major bills, including both its defense authorization and appropriations measures. The Senate Armed Services Committee is likely to consider restrictions when its subcommittees begin marking up the defense authorization bill Tuesday.
One of the most sensitive aid accounts — used to help Pakistan’s military combat insurgents within the country and along its border with Afghanistan — was the target of several amendments the House added to the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill (
An amendment offered by Democrat
Officials said last week they expected Washington and Islamabad to reach an agreement over the weekend to open the routes, which have been closed since an errant NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani troops along the border in November. But disagreements over language continued on Monday, although President Obama said the two sides were making “diligent progress.”
The House also adopted an amendment from Rhode Island Democrat
Even before the defense authorization bill was amended on the House floor, the White House registered its disapproval of provisions that would cap Coalition Support Funds for Pakistan at $650 million and condition that funding on a certification by the secretary of Defense that Islamabad is cooperating in efforts to combat terrorist groups, nuclear proliferation and the manufacture of improvised explosive devices used in Afghanistan.
Strong Objections by White House
In its Statement of Administration Policy on the bill, the White House wrote that it “strongly objects” to those restrictions, which have been “proposed at a particularly sensitive time and would severely constrict DoD’s ability to respond to emergent war-time coalition support requirements, putting at risk the success of our campaign in Afghanistan, and increasing the risk that al Qaeda and its associates would be able to again enjoy a safe haven in Pakistan.”
The House’s draft Defense appropriations bill would impose similar conditions on payment of Coalition Support Funds to the Pakistani military. The spending bill caps those reimbursements at $1.3 billion of the $1.75 billion allocated for the fund — the full administration request. That is in keeping with the roughly 75 percent of Coalition Support Funds that have gone to Pakistan in past years.
For the past several weeks, U.S. diplomats and their Pakistani counterparts have been locked in intense discussions in an attempt to iron out bilateral differences over issues, including Coalition Support Funds.
The United States has frozen reimbursements of those funds over the past year as a result of a series of dust-ups with Islamabad, first over the U.S. raid in Pakistan last spring that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and then over the November strike, which Pakistanis refer to as the Salala incident, after its location. Pakistan’s government has demanded an apology from NATO for the air strike.
Pakistan Aid Restrictions Considered
Pakistan contends the United States owes it as much as $2.6 billion to cover military costs associated with fighting insurgents. The United States has intentionally held up an estimated $300 million in reimbursements, with another $600 million delayed but pending, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The delayed payments, as well as conditions placed on the aid, are a source of considerable frustration in Pakistan’s government, as well as among the Pakistani public. Pakistanis closely follow U.S. policy toward their country and react to perceived slights.
Inevitably, however, Pakistan and the Obama administration are going to have to live with some restrictions on U.S. aid. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are highly skeptical of how aid dollars are used in Pakistan. That includes money provided to help the Pakistani military fight insurgents, which they suspect is being siphoned off to build up capabilities more oriented toward fighting a conventional war against Pakistan’s archenemy, India.
The fiscal 2012 defense authorization and spending laws include lengthy and detailed conditions on how and when aid to Pakistan can be spent. The final versions of the fiscal 2013 bills are likely to be even more restrictive.
The fiscal 2013 spending bill for the State Department and foreign operations approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on May 18 also included restrictions on the distribution of civilian and security aid to Pakistan. Economic, military and law enforcement assistance would be conditioned on, among other things, certification that Islamabad is “not supporting terrorist activities against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan.”
The spending bill would not fund the administration’s $800 million request for counterinsurgency funds, although it would permit transfers from other accounts for that purpose.