The Reagan administration's controversial proposal for some $3 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan faces anothe crucial test. It will come in the form of hearings by the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, scheduled to begin Sept. 11.
ADministration officials will testify that the aid is necessary to boost Pakistan's defense against Soviet-occupied Afghanistan -- as well as to win Pakistan's cooperation in efforts to protect the Middle East from a Soviet threat.
Critics will argue the military aid, including the advanced F-16 fighter bomber, will fuel a Pakistani-Indian arms race forcing India to move even closer to the Soviets for arms.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has agreed to exempt Pakistan from a law barring military aid to countries refusing to support nuclear weapons curbs or accept international safeguards.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has yet to follow suit. Recommendations from its Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, headed by Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D) of New York, will heavily influence the full committee's decision.
Both House and Senate committees must waive the nuclear nonproliferation law for the Reagan aid proposals to be introduced on House and Senate floors.
(In accordance with antiproliferation legislation, the Carter administration had slashed military aid to Pakistan in 1979, when it appeared that Pakistan might be trying to develop nuclear weapons from its nuclear-power program.)
Now there are signs that efforts to influence the aid proposals are being made in the dusty border towns of Pakistan.
Pakistan's charges of an Afghan air attack on a Pakistani border post Sept. 5 and of a Sept. 7 incursion into a Pakistani border village by some 40 Afghan troops immediately became a part of the aid battle.
James L. Buckley, US undersecretary of state for security assistance, after arriving in Pakistan on an aid related mission hinted that the incidents may have been designed to warn Pakistan against moving too close to the US.
(The Soviet Union and Afghanistan have been putting out "flexible" diplomatic feeders to Pakistan. They want Pakistan to improve relations with them -- rather than to arm itself with US aid.)
Undersecretary Buckley backed up his suggestion by noting that the last major border incident (an Afghan MIG-21 strafing attack on a Pakistani bus) occurred just before his arrival in Pakistan on a similar mission in June.
But there is also the possibility that Pakistan is playing up its allegations to convince American congressmen that they should support President Reagan's Pakistan aid proposals.
"There is undoubtedly a danger of Soviet hot pursuit into Pakistan, but the timing of this episode unavoidably raises questions," notes journalist Selig S. Harrison, author of "In Afganistan's Shadow."
"This incident is said to have occurred on the eve of scheduled House hearings on US military aid to Pakistan. One must await further evidence to see that the facts as presented are borne out," he says.
"In all too many cases governments seeking military aid have presented evidence of alleged incidents that later prove to be unfounded or greatly exaggerated."
A critical question now is whether to supply F-16 fighter bombs to Pakistan.
The US Air Force is reported to have concluded that Pakistan does not need anything more sophisticated than the F-5G tactical fighter for defense against Soviet-backed Afghanistan.
But the State Department has favored the F-16, with a greater offensive capacity.
The hope is that this will win Pakistan's cooperation in supporting a Rapid Deployment Force of guarding the Mideast against the Soviet Union.
Critics argue the F-16 and other weapons the administration would provide Pakistan are really more suited for deployment against India than Afghanistan.
This, they say, will force India to turn increasingly to the Soviet Union to match Pakistan's new arms. That could mean a growing arms race on the Indian subcontinent -- and even worse relations between India and the United States.