WASHINGTON: Several members of the US Congress launched on Wednesday a multi-pronged attack on Pakistan, questioning its policies and priorities.
Pakistan had to bear this humiliation for the $742 million that the Obama administration has proposed for the country in the next fiscal year. The lawmakers suggested using this money somewhere else.
Two US officials, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson and US Agency for International Development’s Donald Sampler, made feeble attempts to defend the proposed aid but they could not match the angry legislators.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chaired the hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, set the tone, with a frontal attack on Pakistan.
Administration’s proposed financial assistance to Islamabad opposed
“The Taliban operate freely because Pakistan refuses to take action against them inside its borders,” she said while calling Pakistan “a direct contributor to the Taliban success”.
“It makes little sense to continue giving Pakistan billions of dollars if it’s going to continue to work against our interests,” she said, urging the US administration to “leverage our aid” to make Pakistan “a better regional partner with Afghanistan”.
Ambassador Olson reminded the lawmaker that Pakistan was at a strategic crossroads and had made great progress over the past couple of years in addressing its domestic counter-terrorism priorities.
Pakistan had also taken robust action against those groups, principally the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, that threaten Pakistanis, he added.
But the US administration had “made very clear at the highest levels” that “there is considerable room for improvement in the application” of targeting all terrorist groups without any discrimination, said the senior US diplomat.
“We believe in particular that Pakistan has not taken as vigorous action against groups that threaten its neighbours as it has against those that threaten it domestically.”
Ambassador Olson said that Pakistan now had to make a strategic choice, “with the Taliban having refused to come to the table, it seems to us that it is time to address more robustly the question of groups that threaten Afghanistan”.
But Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen disagreed. “We need to leverage our military sales to Pakistan in order to get some more cooperation within the region,” she said.
Congressmen Matt Salmon and Brad Sherman reminded the administration that Congress had, in the recent past, withheld US aid to Pakistan because it was still holding Dr Shakil Afridi, who assisted US efforts in tracking down Osama bin Laden and later was jailed for 23 years for alleged links to terrorist groups.
By keeping Dr Afridi in prison, the Pakistani government was “thumbing their nose to the United States and the people of the United States”, said a third lawmaker, Dana Rohrabacher.
“Should we look for any other possible restrictions?” asked Mr Salmon, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
“What would be the Pakistani response if we cut all aid until Dr Afridi was released?” asked Mr Sherman.
Mr Sampler told the lawmaker that the administration shared his sense of outrage with regard to the plight of Dr Afridi and had raised this issue at the very highest levels.
“We have requested the release of Dr Afridi and we continually request updates on his health and his status,” he said while reminding the lawmaker that the tactics he suggested had not yielded any results.
But the congressman said that Pakistan should “take a second and third and fourth look at the incarceration of this man and look to his expedited release,” if it wanted to improve its ties with the US.
Congressman Salmon also raised the issue of the Panama leaks at the hearing, noting that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family was named in those papers.
Mr Sampler refused to offer direct comments on Panama papers, but assured the lawmaker that the US was “in favour of greater financial transparency”.
Ambassador Olson said that the US had established a hotline in Pakistan to ensure that American financial assistance was not misappropriated.
Congressman Sherman asked why had the US administration routinely declined to certify that Pakistan was cooperating with the United States on action against the Haqqani Network and others.
“We have long had concerns about the fact that despite Pakistan having a stated policy of not discriminating between terrorist groups and the application of that policy, they have in fact not moved against actors that threaten their neighbours,” Mr Sampler replied.
Congressman Rohrabacher, known in Washington for his anti-Pakistan rhetoric, claimed that Islamabad was “killing the Baloch by the thousands and attacking their neighbours with the supporting terrorist incursions into India”.
“What more can Pakistan do that would have us cut off the military aid?” he asked.