WASHINGTON - With the reopening of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, top US Senators are now saying that Pakistan should get over one billion dollars in US funds that have been held up for months amid heightened tensions between the two countries.
Pakistan had closed those supply lines after US airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at Salala near the Afghan border in November, but opened them last week after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally, publicly, said ‘we are sorry’ over the death of Pakistani soldiers. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) could hold up the funds, but its leaders say they don’t plan to do so.
“I would approve it,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat, told The Cable, a subsidiary of Foreign Policy magazine, on Tuesday. “They’ve presumably earned it by the money they’ve laid out in terms of their anti-terrorist activities and protecting our flow of oil.”
There are costs incurred by Pakistan in facilitating the movement of oil and training and equipping their own forces engaged in the fight against insurgents, Levin said.
“This is not supposed to be a gift, this is supposed to be a reimbursement,” he explained. “That’s the theory.”
But, according to The Cable, Levin is still not satisfied with Pakistan’s level of cooperation when it comes to combating terrorist safe havens on their soil and protecting their side of the Afghanistan border.
“I think they’ve done an adequate job in some areas, a spotty job, a job that is not consistent. I wouldn’t give them a grade A, I would give them a grade C on the work that they’ve undertaken,” he said. “But the deal was there would be reimbursement for their costs and that’s what’s been held up.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programmess, told The Cable that he also believes the CSF money should go through.
“The money’s been stuck in a pipeline and the reason it hasn’t flowed faster is that we can’t be sure it’s going to be spent wisely. If our commanders believe releasing the funds helps the war effort, I don’t want to second guess them,” Graham said in a short interview.
He said the biggest beneficiary of the opening of the supply lines were US and international troops on the ground and he said the money is one of the only bargaining chips Washington has left when dealing with Islamabad.
“Pakistan on a good day is very hard. They are an unreliable ally. You can’t trust them, you can’t abandon them,” Graham said. “But if you cut the money off, what leverage do you have? There may come a day when we do that, but not yet.”
The Pentagon said they have been working with Congressional leaders and they are hopeful the funds will be released. “We look forward to working closely with Congress to process these claims,” Capt John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said last week.
There’s only one hurdle left for the funds to cross over. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican, plans to attempt to force a vote to cut off all aid to Pakistan later this month and will try to include the CSF (Coalition Support Funds) funding in that effort.
That vote is contingent in part on what Pakistan does in the case of Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden but was convicted and sentenced to 33 years for high treason.
Afridi ran a fake vaccination programme for the CIA to collect DNA and verify bin Laden’s presence at the compound in Abbottabad where US commandos found and killed the Al-Qaeda leader in May 2011.
His appeal trial is scheduled for July 19. Moira Bagley, a spokeswoman for Senator Paul, said it was unclear whether the Senate would get a vote on the reimbursement money because the funds have been appropriated.
A Pakistan Embassy team, led by Ambassador Sherry Rehman, has been lobbying with Congressional leaders to prevent any such vote.