WASHINGTON, Dec 12 (Reuters) - The leaders of a U.S.
House-Senate negotiating panel have agreed to freeze $700
million in U.S. aid to Pakistan until it offers to help in the
fight against improvised explosive devices in the region,
exerting more pressure on a troubled strategic ally.
Pakistan is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign
aid, and the cutback announced is only a small proportion of the
billions in civil and military assistance it gets a year.
But it could presage greater cuts as calls grow in the
United States to penalise Islamabad for failing to act against
militant groups and, at worst, helping them, following the
secret U.S. raid on a Pakistan military town in which al Qaeda
leader Osama bin Laden was killed.
Home-made bombs or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are
among militants' most effective weapons against U.S. and
coalition troops in Afghanistan as they struggle to fight a
resurgent Taliban insurgency.
Many are made using ammonium nitrate, a common fertilizer
shipped across the border from Pakistan. The freeze on U.S. aid
was agreed as part of a defense bill that is expected to be
passed this week.
The United States wants "assurances that Pakistan is
countering improvised explosive devices in their country that
are targeting our coalition forces", Representative Howard
McKeon, a House Republican, told reporters.
The United States has allocated some $20 billion in security
and economic aid to Pakistan since 2001, much of it in the form
of reimbursements for assistance in fighting militants.
But U.S. lawmakers have expressed increasing frustration
with Pakistan's efforts in the war.
There have been numerous proposals to make U.S. aid to
Pakistan conditional on more cooperation in fighting militants
such as the Haqqani network Washington believes operate out of
Pakistan and battle U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
But Pakistan's civilian leaders have in the past warned
against aid cuts, saying it would only harden public opinion
against the United States.
It says it is doing all it can to fight al Qaeda and the
Taliban and has lost thousands of soldiers since it joined the
U.S.-led war in 2001, some of them at the hands of coalition
It has accused NATO of deliberately killing 24 Pakistani
soldiers in an air strike near the Afghan border last month and
shut down supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan in anger.
U.S. lawmakers said that many Afghan bombs are made with
fertilizer smuggled by militants across the border from Pakistan
"The vast majority of the material used to make improvised
explosive devices used against U.S. forces in Afghanistan
originates from two fertilizer factories inside Pakistan,"
Senator John McCain, a Republican, said in the Senate last week.
The provision freezing $700 million in aid was agreed upon
by leaders of the armed services committees from both parties in
the House and Senate, including McCain. It is part of compromise
legislation authorizing U.S. defense programs expected to be
approved this week, McKeon said.
He said the bill would also require the Pentagon to deliver
a strategy for improving the effectiveness of U.S. aid to
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)