Courtesy: Chicago Tribune
By Julian E. Barnes, Washington Bureau
2 April 2009
WASHINGTON- A senior Democratic senator raised questions Wednesday about the Obama administration’s plans to prod the Pakistan government to take more aggressive action against extremists by increasing foreign aid to Islamabad.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he thought the Pakistan strategy would be effective only if Pakistanis have decided to forcefully confront religious extremists.
“We’ve got ambivalent evidence as to whether or not they’re committed to that goal,” he said
The plan — first proposed by Vice President Joe Biden when he headed the Foreign Relations Committee and now being pushed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the new committee chairman — would offer $1.5 billion in non-military assistance to Pakistan over five years.
The plan has been endorsed by President Barack Obama and is a key part of the administration’s Pakistan strategy. Supporters say the aid will show the Pakistani people the U.S. is committed to helping them. They also hope that sharply increasing non-military aid will give the U.S. more leverage with the Pakistani government to take action against militants operating within their borders for fear that if they do not, the aid might be cut off.
While few other Democrats have expressed public concerns about the Pakistan strategy, Levin’s reservations suggest that potential new obstacles for the administration could emerge.
Levin criticized Pakistan for failing to secure the border with Afghanistan and allowing Taliban militants to operate in the city of Quetta. The additional aid for Pakistan could work, Levin said, if it meshes with the Pakistani government’s goals. But he suggested the plan could backfire if the Pakistani public thinks the U.S. is trying to buy its cooperation.
“It’s got to be that we are supporting Pakistan policies, because if we appear to be buying something they otherwise would not pursue, it is counterproductive,” Levin said.
Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, said that a string of terror attacks inside Pakistan was turning both the Pakistani leadership and people against extremist militants.
“The problem is making itself very much felt,” said Flournoy, one of the witnesses testifying before the Armed Services Committee. “And so I do think we are in a different moment of opportunity now.”
Flournoy, along with Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, urged the Senate to support the additional aid to Pakistan. Supporters of the aid believe there are few other options to cajole the Pakistanis into taking action against militants. And Flournoy said that if Pakistan did not do a better job, the U.S. would cut back its aid programs.
“This support, both military and economic, will be limited, if we do not see improvements in Pakistani performance,” she said.
The bill to provide a sharp increase in funding for the Pakistanis has not yet been reintroduced into Congress. But a Senate amendment introduced by Kerry and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) to increase the amount of foreign aid in 2010, and specifically boost support for Pakistan and Afghanistan, was passed Wednesday afternoon.
Petraeus said that increased operations by the Pakistani military in the tribal regions are vital to reducing extremist threats. But he said it is also crucial that the U.S. not be seen as a fickle ally.
The U.S. will increase its cross-border cooperation and intelligence-sharing with Pakistan and also try to boost military exchange programs, Petraeus said.
Still, the Pakistani government is hesitant to embrace too much U.S. assistance, especially direct help. But military officials appearing before Levin on Wednesday signaled that if the Pakistanis allow it, they can step up their partnership.
“In Pakistan, we continue to work with security forces at the scale and pace set by them, and we are prepared to do more,” said Adm. Eric Olson, head of U.S. Special Operations Command.
Special operations forces are training Pakistani officers in counterinsurgency to professionalize the operations of the frontier corps that patrols the region near the Afghan border. That effort, so far, has involved a small number of U.S. trainers.
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Photo(s) Photo: U.S. Marines patrol in Afghanistan on Wednesday as the Senate voted to increase aid there and to Pakistan. John Moore/Getty photo Photo: Sen. Carl Levin (left, with Sen. John McCain) has questioned the aid plan for Pakistan. Gerald Herbert/AP photo