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Congress stalls Pakistan aid

Washington, Dec. 20: Congress yesterday slapped restrictions on military aid to Pakistan and withheld $50million of the administration’s $300million request until secretary of state Condoleezza Rice can certify that Islamabad is restoring democratic rights.

The congressional move went further than the administration’s own review of aid to Pakistan after the November 3 declaration of emergency powers by President Pervez Musharraf.

In a decision that received little notice, the administration decided earlier this month to stop making an annual $200million cash payment to the Pakistani government, instead converting those funds to programmes for Pakistan. The congressional aid restrictions were buried in the omnibus spending bill approved yesterday by the House and the Senate and sent to President Bush.

Though Musharraf has lifted emergency rule and resigned as army chief, lawmakers intended to signal that they want to link aid to Islamabad to demonstrated progress on human rights.

Pakistan has received about $10 billion in US aid since 2001, though the administration maintains that about half of that is to reimburse Pakistan for expenses incurred in the fight against terrorist groups.

Bush committed in 2004 to a $6 billion, five-year programme to provide military and economic aid to Pakistan, and this is the first time Congress has sought to place restrictions on that commitment.

Akram Shaheedi, a spokesman for the Pakistani embassy in Washington, criticised the decision, saying that “the government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan were not happy with such conditionality”. He said that the country is “continuing to follow the democratic path” and that “such measures will not weaken Pakistan’s resolve to fight out forces of extremism and terrorism”.

In a unrelated move, lawmakers also cut the administration’s funding request for democracy programmes in Iran from $75million to $60million, diverting $15million toward grants for software programmers who specialise in creating programmes that thwart Internet firewalls erected by repressive countries such as Iran and China. The idea is intended to assist dissidents without making them the target of arrests and harassment.

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