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The Rediff Interview/Howard Berman

'We want to empower democracy, not a military-controlled regime'

January 30, 2009

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Coverage: The Mumbai terror attacks

The chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, US Congressman Howard Berman, has said that he is closely reviewing all American assistance being provided to Pakistan and that "to the extent we are going to provide security assistance, it should be focused on counter-terrorism, not rekindling an arms race in South Asia."

Congressman Berman spoke to rediff.com's  Aziz Haniffa.

The influential lawmaker also pledged that the Mumbai terror attacks [Images] had not been forgotten and said he would continue to press Pakistan "to acknowledge what happened and deal with it and confront it, particularly since it was their terrorists, (who) came from their country, with connections that may be closer to at least former government officials than acknowledged."

One of the main objectives of the Indian Americans Task Force was to make sure that there is complete accountability and transparency of military assistance to Pakistan and that it's not siphoned off by the military and ISI to foment terrorism in India. Are you for such legislation?

First of all, with respect to Pakistan, the best aid we could provide is development assistance, educational assistance, things that could make the lives of average Pakistanis better. Secondly, we have to strengthen the civilian government and not simply define our relationship as a military one. Third, to the extent, we are going to provide security assistance, it should be focused on counter-terrorism and not rekindling an arms race in South Asia. So, we are looking at all these issues very carefully. I take that as part of the thrust of this organization, and so, in that sense, we have the same view.

Do you believe the Biden-Lugar legislation has the necessary safeguards to make sure that this aid is not diverted by the Pakistani authorities?

I want to define the security assistance as a kind of assistance that helps deal with the terrorist havens in the tribal areas and the border with Afghanistan. To me, it's not the fanciest new airplanes with the fanciest new avionics, which is really designed nothing to do with counter-terrorism and more to do with the Indo-Pak conflict. I don't want to fuel that rivalry. How we go about drafting all that remains to be seen�we are working on it. I am not ready to go public on it. But that's my focus, that's my orientation. Plus, I want it to go�whatever assistance we give in the name of counterterrorism, I want it to go to the civilian folks so that it isn't� we want to empower democracy, not a military-controlled regime.

There is this belief among many analysts and intelligence officials that the new democratic government in Pakistan doesn't have the clout and the Army and the ISI still calls the shots. So, how do you reconcile this with Pakistan being such an important ally in the war on terror?  

If the military could get all the things they want from us directly, the civilian government will always be weak. The military should accept the principle of civilian control and make their plea to the civilian government.  We have some specific military to military issues in terms of counter-terrorism�in terms of our aid and assistance, it should be channeled through the civilian government for the counterterrorism purposes. That empowers the civilian government.

What are the broad contours of US aid to Pakistan?

A major focus on economic assistance, education, humanitarian aid and secondly, to the extent that there is a security assistance component, it's focused on counter-terrorism, not efforts to prepare for some conflict with India.

 

 


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