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One aim of US-Afghan-Pakistani summit: a parade for aid

Congress holds the key to billions in new assistance, but some lawmakers are skeptical it would diminish the terrorist threat.

By Staff writer / May 6, 2009

President Obama (center) said Wednesday that the US, Pakistan, and Afghanistan share a common goal of dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda and its extremist allies. He met at the White House with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai (left) and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari (right).

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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Washington

The Washington visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is billed as a trilateral summit to advance the Obama administration’s strategy for battling the region’s Islamist extremists. But all three leaders also have another objective: convincing Congress to open up the purse strings.

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Congress is now mulling over two hefty aid packages for what the Obama administration increasingly refers to as “AfPak.” After senior administration officials last week met skepticism on Capitol Hill as they argued for approval of billions of dollars in new aid for the two strategic allies, it’s now up to Mr. Karzai and Mr. Zardari to help out.

One of their objectives is to persuade US lawmakers worried about corruption and inept governance in Afghanistan – and about infiltrated security forces, shadowy relations with extremists, and vulnerable nuclear materials – that the new money is warranted and will be put to good use.

Congress itself has proposed some of the new aid, suggesting support for a robust US role in the region, some experts in Pakistan and Afghanistan say. But lawmakers are also adding conditions to the new assistance, a sign that Congress, shaken by security trends in both countries, is wary of repeating old patterns and wants to chart out a new direction.

“Congress understands the importance of the relationship with Pakistan – there’s a broad understanding of the importance of giving a new direction to our aid that reaches out to the people of Pakistan and builds a relationship with them over the long term,” says Lisa Curtis, a senior fellow in Asian affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “But there’s also a strong sense that it can’t be aid as usual, so they want to see conditions.”

Multibillion-dollar aid packages

The first of the two packages is a $90 billion supplemental request for funding this year for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that includes nearly $1 billion in emergency aid to Pakistan. That money would include $400 million in new military aid, mostly for equipping and training Pakistani security forces for counterinsurgency operations. Also in the package is $500 million in economic aid to Pakistan and nearly $1 billion for economic development in Afghanistan.

The second proposal is a five-year, $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan that would shift the emphasis of US assistance from the Pakistani military, where it was lavished during the Bush administration, to development and services-building projects aimed at improving the lives of average Pakistanis.

But the Pakistani military would not go begging under the Obama administration requests, which call for $3 billion in aid to Pakistan’s military over the next five years. Last week Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking on Capitol Hill, outlined a plan to basically use wartime powers in Pakistan to quickly move new Pentagon funding into providing counterinsurgency training and equipment.

In brief comments after the three-way summit, Obama said the US was fully committed to providing the military and economic assistance to defeat the three countries' common enemies. Flanked by Karzai and Zardari, Obama said the three nations were committed to working toward the day when they are linked "not by a common enemy" but by the free and prosperous lives of their citizens.