U.S. Lawmakers Tout Aid Plan Criticized In Pakistan
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A controversy that won't go away has brought the foreign minister of Pakistan back to the U.S. Capitol. He's in Washington because many in his own country are up in arms about conditions attached to a multibillion-dollar American aid package. The authors of that aid bill — including Senator John Kerry — are standing by the legislation but they will clarify parts of it to ease Pakistani concerns.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: When Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi came to Washington last week, he was playing down concerns about the aid bill. But with the political firestorm raging at home, the foreign minister was sent back to deliver the message, more forcefully, that his country won't be micromanaged and won't accept anything that impinges on its sovereignty.
Mr. SHAH MEHMOOD QURESHI (Foreign Minister Pakistan): We have discussed it very frankly. I think the message is loud and clear, and it has been understood. Now we are going to work on it collectively to give it the correct interpretation, the interpretation what the bill intends. The bill intends to build a partnership.
KELEMEN: The bill is aimed at boosting civilian authorities in Pakistan, offering $1.5 billion a year, over the next five years, in non-military aid. But the Pakistani military and many in parliament complain that there are too many strings attached.
Senator John Kerry says the problem is that the bill has not been characterized correctly. Kerry tried to clear up some of the myths, saying there are no conditions on the economic assistance, just strict measures of accountability that Congress imposes on the White House, not on Pakistan.
Representative JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): There is nothing in this bill that impinges on Pakistani sovereignty - period. End of issue. And we have no intention of doing so. And there certainly is no intent to micromanage.
KELEMEN: Senator Kerry says he and his colleagues will explain all that in a formal statement that will accompany the legislation once it's signed by President Obama.
Representative KERRY: And I am absolutely confident that we will not only be able to adequately address the concerns that have been raised in Pakistan, but we will provide a clarity that has force of law, so the bill doesn't have to be changed.
KELEMEN: Kerry and his staff were clearly taken aback by the controversy in Pakistan caused by this bill, which passed unanimously in both houses of Congress. The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act is meant to help Pakistan build roads, schools and health clinics.
State Department Spokesman, P.J. Crowley, says the U.S. also wants to support democratic institutions in Pakistan.
Mr. P.J. CROWLEY (State Department Spokesman): This bill represents the kind of long-term commitment by the United States to the future of Pakistan, which is in our interest and Pakistan's interest, and exactly what we think the people of Pakistan have been looking for.
KELEMEN: Both Crowley and Senator Kerry said they think that Pakistan's debate over the bill is healthy and they're just trying to help Pakistan's foreign minister answer the many questions being raised by opponents.
In the meantime, White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Obama looks forward to signing the legislation.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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