House lawmakers warn Pakistan it could lose aid if American is not released

Two House committee chairmen on Tuesday said they have told Pakistani officials Congress might halt aid to Islamabad if an American detained in their country is not released.

The threat further escalates a simmering flap regarding the case of Raymond Davis, who has been held in Pakistan after killing two Pakistani nationals.

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U.S. officials say Davis killed two armed robbers in self-defense and has diplomatic immunity. The row threatens to damage -- or even sever -- Washington’s relations with a key strategic ally in the Afghanistan war.

The threat was delivered during a recent swing through Afghanistan and Pakistan by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), House Armed Services Committee chairman; Rep. John Kline, Education and Labor Committee chairman, and Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), the senior Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The trio was “pretty frank” about halting U.S. assistance funding over Davis’ detention during talks with the senior Pakistani officials, Kline told reporters. Among the Pakistani leaders with whom the U.S. lawmakers met was Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Washington has given Pakistan about $18 billion in civilian and military aid since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

No member of the U.S. delegation told the Pakistani officials “that we are ready to lead the charge” on eliminating aid, Kline said.

But Kline quickly added that House leaders plan to bring a stopgap 2011 spending measure to the floor next week with a rule allowing for open amendments.

“My guess is there would be a lot of support” for an amendment to stop the flow of U.S. funds to Islamabad, Kline said.

Pakistani officials told the U.S. group that “it is a very difficult,” because Davis has been detained by a local government.

An internal Pakistani squabble “shouldn’t be our problem,” Kline said, calling it a “clear case” because Davis allegedly has a diplomatic passport.

The lawmaker’s revelation of the threat came hours after Obama administration officials told the Associated Press they were cutting off some high-level contacts with Pakistan and may downgrade planned meetings in response to the dispute.

McKeon and Kline gave an otherwise upbeat assessment of the situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater.

McKeon said the overall security situation in the areas they visited has improved since his last visit about a year and a half ago. “We never wore body armor,” he told reporters -- not even while strolling through the streets of one village alongside residents.

While “Taliban flags” flew over Marja, a town in southern Afghanistan, during his last visit, “they are now totally gone,” McKeon said.

He also hailed strides made during the last 18 months in training Afghan military forces and police personnel.

The lawmakers also met with senior U.S. commanders.

McKeon said most of the focus among American commanders and troops is on the administration’s new 2014 withdrawal goal, rather than its plan to bring out some U.S. forces this year.

“I think they are waiting to see what happens with the spring offensive,” McKeon told The Hill. “I don’t expect we’ll see a big withdrawal” this year, he added.