Congress looks to attach more strings to billions in Pakistan aid

Tough congressional stipulations on aid to Pakistan would represent a dramatic departure from the past, when the White House and State Department had free rein in dispensing the funds.

The brazen commando raid near Islamabad that left Osama bin Laden dead created agreement among lawmakers of all political stripes that Washington has gotten a minimal return on its investment in Pakistan. Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats alike say the stunning revelation means the U.S. must get tougher on Pakistani officials.


Conditions enacted in the past largely have given the Bush and Obama administrations ample leeway in determining whether Pakistan — seen by both as an indispensable ally in the Afghanistan conflict — was acting as an honest partner.

Despite bin Laden’s refuge being about 30 miles from Islamabad, Pakistan remains a key strategic puzzle piece for the ongoing Afghanistan war, Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFormer Dem aide makes first court appearance on charges of posting GOP senators' info online Ex-House intern charged with 'doxing' GOP senators during Kavanaugh hearing Capitol Police arrest suspect in doxing of GOP senators MORE (D-Calif.) said Tuesday. Therefore, Washington cannot afford to just cut off aid — but it should attach “more strings,” she said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) calculated that Washington has sent Pakistan more than $20 billion in aid since 9/11. He has asked the Obama administration to take a second look at its aid policies.

Republicans and Democrats in both chambers have called for a new approach for dealing with Pakistan, using phrases like “a very different way” and saying Pakistan too often is “both firefighter and arsonist” in the fight against Islamic extremist groups.

Robert Lamb, a former Pentagon strategist now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called such comments “an understandable response.” But Lamb cautioned against taking a “hard line” against Pakistan, saying doing so would embolden those aiding U.S. foes and “throw our supporters under the bus.”

Lawmakers said bin Laden’s five-year stay in a neighborhood populated by Pakistani military and security officials shows that many in that nation’s government are guilty of playing both sides.

To help curb such alleged double-dealing, members want to ensure Pakistani officials are upholding their promises to U.S. leaders.

House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told The Hill last week that lawmakers “should be looking at how we can make Pakistan a more active partner versus groups that threaten us and them.”

The idea is to use stepped-up conditions to change the behavior of Pakistani military and intelligence officials whom some say are assisting anti-U.S. extremists.

What’s been missing, however, is just how Congress might write such stringent stipulations into future legislation.

Past provisions have fallen short of the desires voiced since the May 1 raid in Abbottabad.

For instance, a 2009 measure that expanded American aid to Pakistan stated clearly that the funds it made available came with strings — but on the U.S. government.

“The funds directly authorized by this act ... place no conditions on the government of Pakistan,” stated a joint explanatory statement that accompanied that legislation. “The only requirements are accountability measures placed on the United States executive branch to ensure that the aid directly benefits the Pakistani people.”

Other examples of the soft restrictions can be found in a 2007 law that implemented recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, a panel created to study the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

That law does include a section devoted to limitations on Pakistani aid, but mostly in the form of provisions that require presidential and Cabinet-level certifications of Pakistani behavior.

For example, one provision required that the president submit to lawmakers a report “that contains the determination” that Pakistani leaders were committed to the goal of and acting toward “eliminating” from their soil al Qaeda and Taliban elements. A part of that provision required the White House to show Islamabad was “making demonstrated, significant and sustained progress toward eliminating support of safe haven for terrorists.”

Another provision directed the secretary of State to deliver to Congress “a biannual report describing in detail the extent to which the government of Pakistan has displayed demonstrable progress” toward meeting those same goals.

Because the Bush and Obama administrations have considered Pakistan a key military, intelligence and logistical ally in the Afghanistan conflict, such congressional reports have not led to aid being curtailed or pulled.

Allowing an administration to shape such “accountability tools” typically leads to an outcome Congress did not intend, Lamb said.

If lawmakers in coming months are still hot under the collar about bin Laden’s Abbottabad lair, they might look to restrictions placed on aid to Colombia in the 1990s, Lamb told The Hill during a telephone interview.

“At that time, the U.S. increased aid but there were requirements on human-rights issues,” Lamb said. “By and large, those requirements helped improve the behavior of many in the Colombian military and marginalized human-rights abuses. The effect was to help create a more professional military.

Still, he is skeptical tougher sanctions would really work in Washington’s favor.

“The Pakistanis view the U.S. as a transactional people. Putting a bunch of stipulations on money you’re giving another party is like prostitution,” Lamb said. “And anyone who is treated like a prostitute generally does not like it.”