Pakistan diplomat says restriction on aid to his country ‘erodes good will’

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States on Wednesday urged Congress to resist slapping restrictions on U.S. aid to Islamabad.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani warned that restrictions would further complicate the nations’ already delicate alliance.

“Putting restrictions on aid after voting for it … erodes good will,” Haqqani told reporters at a breakfast meeting sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

U.S. lawmakers, in the wake of the May 1 commando raid on Pakistani soil that killed Osama bin Laden, have proposed attaching strings to aid dollars meant for Islamabad.

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A provision in the House-passed 2012 Pentagon appropriations bill would keep all but 25 percent of $1.1 billion in aid intended for Islamabad in the bank until the White House provides clear details on how it would spend the cash.

House lawmakers want the remaining 75 percent subject to the Obama administration providing lawmakers a report detailing its “strategy to utilize the fund and the metrics used to determine progress with respect to the fund,” according to a report accompanying the House bill.

Senate appropriators have said all aid to Pakistan must be contingent on Islamabad stepping up efforts to combat anti-U.S. groups such as the Haqqani Network.

Pakistan’s ambassador said he often tells U.S. lawmakers that its annual aid to Islamabad is “a small amount” when compared with the amount Washington has been spending each year in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“By shutting [aid] down, you’re telling people you don’t care,” Haqqani said.

The ambassador acknowledged that the relationship is strained, but said the two nations’ leaders realize they must work together.

U.S. lawmakers and Pakistani officials should avoid taking actions that could further complicate the already shaky Washington-Islamabad relationship, he said.

But Haqqani reiterated comments made in the wake of bin Laden’s death by saying his nation opposes becoming “dependent” on American aid funds.

He also said American officials must think about drone strikes against enemy fighters inside Pakistan — which they increasingly have been using — in terms of “the bigger picture.”

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To drive home the point, he cited former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who once questioned whether such strikes kill more extremist fighters or recruit new ones. When civilians die in such attacks, it harms the greater goal of the Afghanistan war and fight against al Qaeda, Haqqani said.

U.S. and Afghanistan officials have launched efforts to negotiate with Taliban and Haqqani commanders in an effort to broker a long-term peace pact in Afghanistan.

On that subject, the diplomat declined to discuss specific groups, but said such talks should include all parties — he paused, and added a telling caveat — “who are willing to talk.”

Haqqani also declined to discuss comments made by almost all of the GOP presidential candidates, who have questioned whether his nation truly is a U.S. ally. They also have said American aid to the country should be cut off.

Haqqani’s career has led him to invoke a blanket policy when speaking of politics: “Never respond to comments of candidates running for office.”