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'All we're doing is rewarding thugs': US Congressman on aid to Pakistan

By Aziz Haniffa
July 14, 2016 14:11 IST
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'Why do we continue giving them money when we know of all the bad things they are doing?''s Aziz Haniffa reports from Washington, DC.

Pakistan came under severe criticism from a United States Congressional panel, which demanded cutting off all US assistance to Islamabad to persuade it to act against terror groups operating from its territory.

US Congressman Matt Salmon, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs sub-committee that has jurisdiction over matters pertaining to South Asia, grew progressively angry and agitated as he heard testimony from former top diplomats and experts confirming Pakistan's double standards of receiving American economic and military largesse, but supporting and sponsoring international terrorism.

Salmon, who heads the Asia Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, chairing a hearing on Pakistan: Friend or Foe in the Fight Against Terrorism, said, 'They see us as being so stupid, and it kind of reminds me -- I wasn't there but some of the movies I have seen -- of where some of the old mafia used to deal with businesses where they come take money from them to protect them, so to speak.'

$860 million
The amount the US has proposed as aid for Pakistan during 2016-2017, including $265 million for military hardware in addition to counterinsurgency funds.

'It seems reminiscent of that to me -- paying the mafia -- but no good is going to come of it at the end,' Salmon said.

'I am a believer that if we just cut off the funding (to Pakistan), it's not going to be enough,' the Congressman added. 'If we just cut off the funding, I don't think it's going to be significant enough to them, (because of) the other resources they get from the bad guys.'

'I am wondering, why in the world, have we continued to pursue this policy of giving them money, when we know of all the bad things they are doing -- why have we done this policy in the first place,' Salmon remarked.

'I guess I could understand the first place why we did this because there was some assistance with the war on terrorism with Afghanistan. But now I don't understand the rationale,' Salmon said.

The Pakistanis, Salmon said, 'are making chumps out of us -- patsies, chumps, idiots,' and noted, 'Most Americans see through all of this and yet our so-called leaders don't really get it.'

'I can't even contemplate, why on god's green earth, we even thought for a nano second on the F-16s sale. I am glad that it's been scuttled, but none of it makes any sense at all,' the Congressman added.

Salmon seemed convinced that cutting off all assistance to Pakistan should be the first step and if even after that Islamabad did not change its behaviour of supporting and sponsoring terrorism, other changes including designating Pakistan as a State sponsor of terrorism should be an option.

'For the record,' he said, 'I personally believe that we should completely cut off funding to Pakistan. That would be the first step -- give that a chance to work and if we don't see any changes, we move with some of the other changes.'

These, Salmon said, would be designating Pakistan a 'State sponsor of terrorism declaration, possibly economic sanctions, and I personally believe that right now, we have the worst policy that we could possibly have and all we are doing is rewarding thugs.'

The Republican was very critical of the financial aid being provided to Pakistan, saying that despite the 'significant investment' of the US spending tens of billions of taxpayer dollars in aid to Pakistan since 9/11, the 'Pakistani military and intelligence are still linked to terrorist groups.'

'While the administration and the Pakistanis argue that there have been some successes in the fight against terrorist elements,' Salman pointed out, 'terrorist groups with close ties to Pakistan's military elite have been left untouched to the point of thriving, while Pakistan's governing elite turns a blind eye.'

'To be frank,' the Congressman said, 'Pakistan likes the United States because for decades, we've given them a substantial amount of aid, especially to the Pakistani military, while they hope they can prevent us from getting too close with India.'

'Many see Pakistani forces as selective in the terrorist groups it fights, leaving others to wreak havoc, especially when those groups that target India.'

'The United States tolerates Pakistan,' Salmon felt, 'because it claims to be in the fight on the global war on terror. But recent history shows us that while Pakistan is getting money and weapons, the war on terror is sadly lacking and Pakistan may, in fact, be using the assets we provide them to undermine some of our strategic and diplomatic efforts in the region.'

'Pakistan claims to be fighting terrorism, but they refuse to fight some groups who we know to be terrorists,' he said, and spoke of how 'many observers see Pakistani forces as selective in the terrorist groups it fights, leaving others to wreak havoc, especially when those groups target India.'

'Let's not forget that Pakistan was less than helpful in the hunt and ultimate demise of Osama bin Laden,' Salmon said, 'and to this day, they are holding Dr Shakil Afridi under arrest -- a hero to our country for aiding in bin Laden's capture.'

During the hearing, several lawmakers referred to how former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in February had boasted how Pakistan had provided support to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba -- responsible for the horrific 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai -- and Jaish-e-Mohammad, also a group that had targeted India and are believed to have been responsible for the Pathankot airbase attack.

Congressman Brad Sherman, the ranking and senior-most Democrat on the subcommittee, noted that 'He (Musharraf) essentially said that terrorism was fine if it is directed against India. And his remarks didn't provoke much of a reaction since much of the power structure in Pakistan agrees with him.'

'The Pakistani government continues to hold Dr (Shakil) Afridi,' Sherman said, 'and so, not only do they shelter bin Laden, but punish those who helped us un-shelter bin Laden.'

It is no secret Sherman said that 'the military establishment in Pakistan stokes paranoia about India, meddles in Afghanistan and it seems to be trying to weaken Afghanistan so as to have a Pushtun population.'

'Regardless of how we answer the friend or foe question, our relationship with Pakistan is important,' he said, but argued, 'Keep in mind, you'd think we would provide aid to only those countries that we don't have to ask the question -- "friend or foe?"'

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC