WASHINGTON - With the Congressional appropriations process for fiscal 2013 underway, Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman has been telling key American lawmakers that 'onerous' restrictions being placed on funding to Pakistan will not help bring the strained bilateral relationship back on track.
Pakistan closed the crossing to NATO supply convoys after an US airstrike in November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Negotiators from Pakistan and the United States are still hard at work to finalize a deal to reopen the routes to Afghanistan.
As Ambassador Rehman stepped up her outreach campaign at Capitol Hill, she told Congressional leaders that Pakistan needed support, not criticism, at this important juncture.
Meanwhile, Congressional sources acknowledged that Ambassador Rehman's intense lobbying played a big part in the defeat of an amendment by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher seeking to prohibit all US assistance to Pakistan under the Defence Authorization Act 2013. The move by Rohrabacher, who also advocates self-determination for Balochs, mustered only 84 votes, with 335 against.
But the sentiment over border closings seems to be very high. A bill, which passed with an overwhelming majority, seeks to withhold the Coalition Support Funds “until the US Secretary of Defence certifies that Pakistan has opened the Ground Lines of Communication, is allowing the transit of Nato supplies through Pakistan into Afghanistan, and is supporting the retrograde of US equipment out of Afghanistan”.
There were 412 out of 435 votes in favour of the proposal. Only one member voted against it.
The White House, however, has strongly objected to imposing new restrictions on Pakistan, telling the lawmakers that President Barack Obama may veto such moves even if they endorse them.
Over the past couple of days, Ambassador Rehman met Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House and presently House Minority Leader, Congressman David Dreier, Chairman House Rules Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairperson House Foreign Affairs Committee, Nita Lowey, the ranking member of the State and Foreign Operations Sub-Committee and Senator John Kerry, Chairman House Foreign Relations Committee.
During these meetings, she stressed that the US Congress had an important role in helping strengthen democracy in Pakistan. The Pakistani Parliament had recently concluded an exhaustive review of Pakistan-US relations. she told lawmakers. This was a landmark development and gave the Pakistani people a stake in the all-important relationship through their elected representatives. She said the US Congress, as the Pakistani Parliament’s direct counterpart, should give due consideration to the Parliament’s recommendations.
The Pakistani envoy stressed that as Pakistan’s friend and ally, the US had an extra-responsibility to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty.
The US legislators, while affirming the importance of the Pakistan-US relations, also took the opportunity to share with her their views and concerns about the relationship and the issues relating to it, Congressional aides said.
The US legislators also shared their perceptions about the situation in Afghanistan and how Pakistan and the US could work together to defeat terrorism and help bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, according to sources. Minority Leader Pelsoi had in fact visited Afghanistan only a week back.
In this context, Ambassador Rehman underlined that no country stood to gain more from peace and stability in Afghanistan than Pakistan and it was therefore incorrect to blame Pakistan for the problems in Afghanistan. She reiterated Pakistan’s firm support to the US in fighting terrorism and for an Afghan-led and owned reconciliation process in Afghanistan. In this context, Ambassador Rehman also highlighted Pakistan’s contributions and sacrifices in defeating terrorism.
In addition, the Pakistani envoy called on a Senators Carl Levin, Chairman Armed Services Committee, Dianne Feinstein, Chairperson Intelligence Committee, Sheldon Whitehouse, member Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Casey, member Foreign Relations Committee and Richard Blumenthal, member Armed Services Committee and Congressman Howard Berman, ranking member House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, member Foreign Affairs Committee, Jim Moran, member Appropriations Committee, Sheila Jackson Lee, member Transportation Committee and John Tierney, member Oversight Committee.