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New US aid for Pak has strings attached

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | July 16, 2008 14:30 IST

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US lawmakers propose $7.5 bn aid to Pakistan
The massive $ 7.5 billion economic aid package to Pakistan over five years proposed by Senators Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Committee, will have iron-clad safeguards built into it to prevent any of this American largesse being siphoned off to the military or the intelligence services that could then be used to sponsor terrorism that could pose a threat to India, Biden told rediff.com.

"The answer is yes," Biden replied when asked if India could be assured that this huge economic assistance would not be diverted for other purposes, and explained that, "There is a requirement of absolute transparency. We not only indicate that the $1.5 billion is non-military aid -- economic aid annually -- but we specify in broad terms where it must go."

Biden asserted: "The aid must go to build schools and roads. It must go into the economic development of the country and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas."

Biden said the FATA region is the most dangerous region in that part of the world, and noted that, "Everyone we've spoken to indicates to us that the way to win in the FATA is to have some connection between these tribal areas and Islamabad. The way to do that -- and where it's been done on a small scale it's worked -- is by building roads and schools."

Biden pointed out, "The Saudis and others have built over 7,000 madrassas along that border. We want to counter that by offering alternatives. There are a number of schools for example, when we visited -- my staff and Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel as well -- where we were told there were numerous places of what we in America would call 'public schools'. These state-sponsored schools are open but empty. There are no teachers, no books, there is nothing there."

According to Biden, "The choices being made by many Pakistanis are not so much that they want to send their kid to a school that's going to indoctrinate them, but there's shelter, it's warm in the winter, it's a place where the kids get three square meals, it's someplace people can go and you are going to send your child."

"I would make -- not a historically precise analogy -- to the monasteries in the 9th and 10th centuries in Europe, where parents send their kids because that was the only place where you could go," the Democrat from Delaware said.

Biden said, "So, we are specific in where we want the money to go, but we are not going to dictate to them exactly what school to build and how they build the school and what road to build. But there will be an accounting as well as greater transparency in the military aid, which is a separate account. One of the things we found as we tried to get accountability wasn't that the State Department was misleading us. The truth of the matter is, they did not have a very clear accountability of where the military money was spent, who or where they were going to, what the payments were for. So, its tightens all of that up."

Asked if this economic assistance would be the panacea that eschews people in Pakistan who would otherwise become jihadists from turning into one, Biden said, "I am not sure that there's a direct and immediate payoff."

"The first thing is, the money, the amount, quite frankly, as I've learnt in Pakistan is less important than the absolute commitment that is entailed here. What we are saying to the Pakistani people -- and it takes time for this to get into the countryside, relatively speaking -- is that 'Look, it's a changed ball-game',"  Biden said.

Recalling the time when Washington co-opted the Pakistanis to fight the erstwhile Soviet Union after its invasion of Afghanistan in the 1970s, Biden said, "It's not, help us defeat the Russians in Afghanistan and we'll help you. Help us do this and we'll help you. We want to normalise the relationship."

Biden argued, "The vast majority of the people of Pakistan are middle-class, solid people. They want to be part of a world that is well ordered and they want to be responsible. What they wonder about in my view is whether we understand that about them and we are prepared to be in the long haul with them."

"They've gone through hell and back in terms of the crises they've been facing," in Pakistan, the Delaware Democrat said. "And, so quite frankly, it's as much about a long-term commitment and meaning as it's about the money."

Biden said,  "If you want to change the dynamic in the FATA, you've got to change the developmental circumstance that exists there. Does that mean they are not going to join the jihadists ? The answer is, that if they have a job, if they have the prospect of some form of decent living, I think it increases exponentially the prospect they they don't want to take up a rifle and get paid to be part of a jihadi group."




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