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'Benchmarks on US aid to Pak needed'
Sridhar Krishnaswami in Washington | March 22, 2007 17:38 IST
Questioning the willingness of the Pakistan government to control extremist groups that exist on its soil, a key US Congress member has sought benchmarks on aid to Islamabad to ensure progress against terrorism and towards restoring democracy.
Congressman Gary Ackerman, who was chairing a hearing of the South Asia and Middle East subcommittee in the US House of Representatives, said, "It is long past time for the Congress to add benchmarks on aid to Pakistan to ensure that progress against terrorism and towards restoring democracy is actually made, and that we stop responding to every crisis in Pakistan with the refrain of more money."
He said the removal of the chief justice of Pakistan highlights the fact that the return of democracy to the country is an issue that has slipped in emphasis if not in actual importance in Congress, which for six years has authorised the US president to waive a provision of law which could ordinarily cut off assistance to a military government after a coup.
In return for that waiver and $3.5 billion, the US has seen very little in the way of progress towards democracy, the Democratic Committee chairperson said.
He said if the "past is prologue," the 2007 elections will be no freer and no fairer than any others. Candidates posing a serious challenge to President Pervez Musharraf will either be undercut or barred outright from participating, clearing the field for only a challenge from Islamist candidates and setting before the voters a false choice of Musharraf or militants in control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, he said adding, "What we truly need in Pakistan is someone to talk to."
"The administration seems content to only speak with Musharraf and portrays him as the indispensable man. The truth is, for our goals to be achieved in Pakistan, there should be more than one phone number there to dial," Ackerman said.
In her presentation before the sub-committee, Lisa Curtis of The Heritage Foundation said, "There appears to be continuing links among lower-level Pakistani military and intelligence officials with Taliban and Kashmiri militant leaders, who in turn have links to Al Qaeda."
"Pakistan supported the Taliban throughout the 1990s with the strategic aim of denying India, as well as Iran and Central Asian countries, a strong foothold in Afghanistan and ensuring a friendly regime in Kabul that would refrain from making territorial claims on Pakistan's Pashtun areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border," she said.
Though Pakistan cut official ties to the Taliban and reined in infiltration of militants crossing the Line of Control from Pakistan into Jammu and Kashmir, she pointed out that Islamabad has refused to shut down training camps or detain key terrorist leaders for longer than a few weeks at a time.
"The links among these various terrorist groups and Pakistan security agencies' ambivalent attitude toward them has emboldened these groups in their attacks against both Western and South Asian targets. Islamabad needs to adopt an uncompromising policy towards all terrorist groups operating on its territory, failing which it risks facing a permanent state of instability on both its western and eastern borders and increasing international isolation," she added.
"Reports of links between those involved in the foiled London airliner bomb plot in mid-August and Pakistani terrorist groups that traditionally operate in Jammu and Kashmir further demonstrate the dangers of not cracking down forcefully on all terrorists in Pakistan," Curtis said.