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Slow Pitch: Congress Should Cut Military Aid to Pakistan

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Who says Congress can't do anything about our ethically-challenged foreign policy? Pakistan's General Musharraf - by a ham-handed crackdown on his political opponents - and President Bush - by refusing to do anything concrete in response - have tossed Congress a slow pitch. Let's see if they can hit this one. All Congress has to do for starters is cut or suspend some U.S. military aid to Pakistan. By so doing, Congress can demonstrate that the United States is actually somewhat serious about supporting democracy, that "we support democracy" is not just code for "we want your resources and your vote at the UN."

General Musharraf has in a sense done Congress a favor politically by acting in a such a heavy-handed way. Although Musharraf tried to justify his crackdown by invoking the threat of terrorism, mainstream press reports called foul on this immediately, noting that he acted after Pakistan's Supreme Court indicated it would rule that he could not run for re-election as president without resigning his military post. Pakistani officials have admitted this.

Bush has done Congress a favor politically too, by refusing to do anything to indicate that General Musharraf's actions would have some meaningful negative consequences for his relationship with the United States.

In particular, Bush has refused to suspend any U.S. military aid to Pakistan, even that part of U.S. military aid that has no plausible relationship with fighting terrorists or insurgents.

Pakistan is now the third largest recipient of U.S. aid. Over the last five years, Pakistan has received over $10 billion from the United States; over $6 billion of that money was military aid. A large chunk of that aid - $1.6 billion - was used to finance large weapons programs, which would be of no use in combating terrorists or insurgents.

As the New York Times reported on November 6:

...another $1.6 billion has been sent in part to buy big-ticket weapons such as F-16 jets and P-3 Orion patrol aircraft.

It is this last category - weapons that Pakistan has sought primarily to keep pace with rival India - that officials said Monday could get the closest scrutiny from Congress. Lawmakers may be willing to put restrictions on future payments for high-tech weapons that are less critical for counterterrorism operations.

"Do you need an F-16 to deliver ordnance on a mud hut?" said a senior Democratic congressional aide who said he expected lawmakers to at least consider putting strings on future payments to Pakistan. "You don't."

So, a modest step Congress could take would be to suspend some or all of the U.S. military aid that goes to finance these weapons systems. Existing U.S. law says this aid should be suspended, but includes Presidential waivers. Congress can, of course, anytime it likes, remove the ability of the President to waive the restriction concerning any portion of the aid.

Ask Congress to act.