Pakistan Defends US Aid Package
By Sean Maroney
16 October 2009
The Pakistani government is defending the $7.5 billion U.S. aid package, saying Washington has addressed Islamabad's concerns over some of the controversial clauses. Late Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law.
The U.S. Congress earlier this month unanimously approved the $7.5 billion aid package to help Pakistan improve health, education and security in the wake of rising militancy in the country.
But the legislation has come under strong criticism from opposition parties and the country's powerful military.
The opponents say some of the clauses undermine Pakistan's sovereignty.
Last week in a high-level meeting of its leadership, the Pakistani military objected to clauses that implied they supported militant groups.
The relentless criticism forced the government to send Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to Washington this week to convey the concerns to the sponsors of the multi-billion-dollar aid package.
Shortly after returning to Islamabad, Qureshi informed the Parliament Friday about his discussions with the U.S. lawmakers.
"I minced no words," he said. "I highlighted each and every concern that was raised. Mr. Speaker, when I said what I had to say as a custodian of this Parliament as a person representing the sentiment of the people of Pakistan, and he replied to me, 'Foreign Minister, we hear you loud and clear.' Loud and clear was what Senator [John] Kerry and the other senators told me."
U.S. lawmakers said the language of the aid package could not be changed. But U.S. Senator John Kerry and Representative Howard Berman on Wednesday gave Qureshi a document stating that the package does not impose any conditions on Pakistan or infringe on its sovereignty.
The United States considers Pakistan a vital ally in the global fight against terrorism. U.S. officials maintain the aid package is meant to strengthen the bilateral relations and help Pakistan fight its growing insurgency led by Taliban militants.
The militants are using their bases in Pakistan's remote tribal regions bordering Afghanistan for launching attacks against government and security targets across the country.
The latest attack occurred Friday as Parliament was in session for the aid package debate.
Police in the northwestern city of Peshawar say a suicide car bomber rammed into a building where suspects are held and interrogated. At least a dozen people have been killed.
The violence also comes a day after a series of high-profile suicide bombings and militant assaults on opposite sides of the country killed at least 39 people.
U.S. Senator John Kerry, one of the authors of the aid package, is expected to arrive in Pakistan early next week to reassure Pakistani leaders that the United States does not intend to undermine their country's sovereignty.
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