Obama signs off on extra aid for Pakistan

Extra $7.5 billion in US aid will go for Pakistan's economic support, not new military help.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi meets with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday.
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President Obama on Wednesday signed legislation that triples economic aid to Pakistan, even as it seeks to shift the focus of the US partnership with Pakistan from the military to the country's people and civilian institutions.

The new assistance program, which boosts US aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion over the next five years, seeks to redirect the substantial aid the US has provided Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks to a "hearts and minds" battle aimed at winning over the Pakistani population in the struggle with Islamic extremism.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the new aid a "tangible manifestation of broad support for Pakistan in the US." He also said that Mr. Obama sees the new legislation bolstering a US-Pakistan relationship that is "grounded in support for Pakistan's democratic institutions and the Pakistani people."

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The thrust of the new aid package had already caused some rumblings in Pakistan's military, but the disquiet turned to outrage and shouts of lost sovereignty among Pakistan's military and political opposition after the stipulations for Pakistan to receive the annual aid became clear.

The uproar prompted Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, to hurry back to Washington this week after having reviewed the legislation with administration officials and congressional leaders in a quiet visit just last week. It also prompted the US Congress to hastily attach a post-vote statement to the aid law clarifying that the legislation is not intended as a strike at Pakistan's sovereignty.

In announcing the unusual step of attaching a statement to approved legislation, Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the clarification "makes absolutely clear ... that the legislation does not seek to compromise Pakistan's sovereignty, does not seek to impinge on national security interests, or even micromanage any aspect of Pakistan's military or civilian operations."

Mr. Qureshi said Wednesday that the statement would go a long way to addressing Pakistani concerns. More broadly, he called the new aid law "a historic document" and "a step forward in our relationship."

Yet no changes were made in the legislation, and the conditions that caused the uproar are still in the law. Among them, the secretary of State must certify annually that Pakistan is pursuing its fight with Islamic extremists and that the civilian government retains control of the military.

The law also says Pakistan must "cease all support for extremist and terrorist groups," a reference to documented cases of Pakistan's intelligence services, in particular, nurturing and assisting terrorist organizations that have carried out bombings inside neighboring India or have targeted Indian interests.

Some South Asia analysts in the US say the new legislation constitutes a blueprint for remaking a country long dominated by its military into a civilian-run democracy. But they caution that the military has also been the central source of Pakistan's stability, and they worry that a less dominant military could expose a key Asian nuclear power to the destabilizing growth of extremist organizations.

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