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Congress rejected to cut US assistance for Pakistan

18 June, 2016

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WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives has rejected by vote two amendments to cut US assistance for Pakistan.

While debating the annual Defence Appropriations Act for the financial year 2017, Congressman Ted Poe of Texas and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii moved an amendment to cut the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for Pakistan from $900 million to $700m.

Another lawmaker, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, submitted a separate amendment calling for ending all CSF assistance for Pakistan.

Earlier in May, the US House of Representatives had approved $900m CSF outlay for Pakistan as part of the annual Defence Authorisation Bill.

The house rejected both amendments by voice vote but resorted to a recorded vote after both Congressmen insisted on it.

The amendment moved by Mr Poe and Ms Gabbard was defeated by 230 to 191. Mr Rohrabacher’s amendment was defeated by 336-84.

The Coalition Support Fund was set up to reimburse US allies for the efforts they make for fighting terrorism. It links Pakistan with Afghanistan but the US Senate passed a bill last week, proposing a separate fund of $800m for assisting Pakistan. The new proposal also delinks Pakistan from Afghanistan, recognising that Pakistan has its own strategic importance.

The house, however, is still working with the old arrangement, which would soon expire, requiring Congress to work out a new arrangement. Any new arrangement has to be approved by both the Senate and the House.

While discussing the proposed cuts, Congressman Poe called for reducing the suggested amount by $200m on the basis of reports that Pakistan was supporting the Taliban.

Congressman Rohrabacher made similar accusations and also pointed at detention of Dr Shakil Afridi as evidence and that Pakistan was an insincere partner of the United States.

Three Congressmen criticised the proposed amendments. Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen from New Jersey, who chairs the Defence Appropriations Committee, explained the mechanism of the CSF saying that the fund allows the Secretary of Defence to reimburse any key cooperating nation for logistical and military support. This includes providing access, specialised training to personnel, procurement and provision of supplies and equipment provided by that nation in connection with a US military operation.

Pakistan, he said, was a key route for supplying US troops in Afghanistan.

Congressman Frelinghuysen said that receipts for reimbursements were submitted by cooperating nations and vetted by the Pentagon, which “follow a strict — and I say strict — criteria to meet standards for reimbursement, it is all about reimbursement”.

He insisted that all payments were made in arrears and following notification to members of Congress on appropriate committees.

Mr Frelinghuysen noted that the CSF remained a critical tool to enable Pakistan to effectively deal with future challenges from the emerging US drawdown.

“It also was a cost-effective tool for the US to remain engaged in the region and with Pakistan,” he added. “We shouldn’t be abandoning Pakistan, because we might actually have something even worse than what the gentleman describes if we turn our back on Pakistan,” he warned.

The ranking Democrat member of the Committee on Appropriations, Congressman Peter Visclosky also opposed the amendments. He said that US legislation had in -built oversight mechanism to ensure that funds were released only when it had been certified that Pakistan is cooperating in counterterrorism.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, co-chair of Pakistan Congressional Caucus, highlighted Pakistan’s own actions in counterterrorism.

“Over the years, I have worked with a number of persons in the Pakistani government. But, in particular, I want to emphasise that the Pakistan military, over a period of years, has fought against terrorism and suffered a great treasure in the loss of their soldiers,” she said.

“I believe it is important that we continue to collaborate and, as my two colleagues have said, that we work extensively with oversight.”

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