US Senators Joseph R Biden, Jr (Delaware Democrat), who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Richard Lugar (Indiana Republican), the committee's ranking member, unveiled landmark legislation Tuesday designed "to promote an enhanced strategic partnership with the people of Pakistan."
The bill triples non-military aid to Pakistan to the tune of $7.5 billion over five years to be used for development purposes, such a building schools, roads and clinics, even as it calls for greater accountability on security assistance, to improve Pakistani counterterrorism capabilities and ensure more effective efforts against the resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda.
At a news conference in the Senate Press Gallery on Capitol Hill, Biden said, "For much too long, the US-Pakistan relationship has been an unsteady balancing act in one of the most turbulent spots, most dangerous spots in the world."
"And, from my perspective, the core of our problem has been that we've had, what I refer to as a transactional relationship with Pakistan, and from the American perspective that transaction hasn't been going too well in the minds of most Americans -- we have spent billions of dollars and in the minds of many Americans, we've not got much for the billions of dollars we have spent," he said.
From the Pakistani perspective, Biden said, "America is seen as an unreliable ally who will abandon Pakistan the moment it is convenient to do so, and whose support to date from their perspective -- as I have travelled that country -- has merely bolstered unrepresentative leaders, both in and out of uniform."
Thus, he argued that from his perspective, the status-quo is unsustainable -- the status-quo of the US-Pakistani relationship -- and we have got to move from this transactional relationship that is exchange of aid in return for services to a more normal functional relationship that we enjoy with the vast majority of other military allies and friends around the world."
Biden said the legislation that the legislation he and Lugar formulated was "a bold new strategy" in US-Pakistan relations, and pointed out that in doing so "we consulted with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as the Administration."
"We have sought the counsel of diplomats, military officers, in and out of uniform, and a large number of respected academics, and our bill represents a genuine sea-change -- one in which it will shed our policy in my view on a safer and much more successful course," he said.
Biden said, "This aid is our pledge to the Pakistani people and to the civilian government, proof that the United States wants to be not a fair-weather but an all-weather friend. It will build schools, it will build clinics, it will build roads, and it will help develop one of the most unsettled areas in Pakistan -- the so-called FATA or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas -- where extremism is taking root."
Lugar, who participated in the briefing with Biden, declared, "We have few more important foreign policy priorities than encouraging stability in Pakistan and throughout the region, and providing sustainable cooperation to fight the terrorists who threaten both our countries."
He said that both he and Biden had worked closely with the Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte as well as officials at the US Agency for International Development "to craft this legislation," and added: "This bipartisan effort reflects the important realization that our relations with Pakistan must be broad-based and enduring."
Lugar said the legislation "recognizes that strengthening democracy and countering terrorism go hand in hand," and argued that "American defence, intelligence and State Department officials have all said that economic development and improved governance are at least as critical as military action in containing the terrorist threat."
But he asserted that "while our bill envisions sustained cooperation with Pakistan for the long haul, it is not a blank check. It calls for tangible progress in a number of areas, including an independent judiciary, greater accountability by the central government, respect for human rights, and civilian control of the levers of power, including the military and intelligence agencies."
He acknowledged that the bill "recognizes that Pakistan will need security assistance to fight the terrorists, but it subjects this assistance to a certification that the government is using the money for its intended purpose, namely, to go after the Taliban and al Qaeda, and that civilian control is maintained."
"And, it calls for a comprehensive, cross-border approach to the very difficult situation along the adjoining Afghan and Pakistani tribal areas, combing the economic and security aspects," Lugar said.
During the interaction that followed, asked if the bipartisan nature of the bill would envisage it to clear Congress expeditiously and land on the President's desk for signature, Biden said, "God willing, and the creek not rising as they say in the southern part of my state, and Insha Allah (God willing, in Arabic), that it will be sometime before we adjourn -- before the Senate goes out of session in September."
He said his hope "is that we can actually get our piece of this done and passed -- between now and August, between now and the time we go out of session."
Biden said his optimism was because "there is a mounting degree of support for this from all different quarters -- and I cannot speak for the House, but we are optimistic that the House of Representatives would share our views."
"But one thing, I have learnt after 35 years, is that you should never predict what the Congress is going to do with any degree of certainty, you are bound to be mistaken. But, I feel real momentum here -- there is no real push-back coming from any place and a genuine recognition that this is the most dangerous piece of geography in the world, the subcontinent of India -- and anything to stabilize (the region), and most people believe this helps stabilize it, is something that will get support."