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U.S. lawmakers tighten aid to Pakistan

Backsliding by President Musharraf on moving toward democracy led to the new restrictions.

WASHINGTON - Congress yesterday slapped restrictions on military aid to Pakistan and withheld $50 million of the administration's $300 million request until Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice can certify that Islamabad is restoring democratic rights, including an independent judiciary.

The move went further than the administration's own review of aid to Pakistan following the Nov. 3 declaration of emergency powers by President Pervez Musharraf.

In a decision that received little notice, the administration decided this month to stop making an annual $200 million cash payment to the Pakistani government, instead converting those funds to programs for Pakistan that will be administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The congressional aid restrictions were buried in the omnibus spending bill sent yesterday to President Bush. Although Musharraf has lifted emergency rule and resigned as army chief, lawmakers intended to signal that they want to link aid to Islamabad to demonstrated progress on human rights.

Pakistan has received about $10 billion in U.S. aid since 2001, though the administration says about half of that is to reimburse Pakistan for expenses incurred in the fight against terrorist groups.

Bush committed in 2004 to a $6 billion, five-year program to provide military and economic aid to Pakistan, and this is the first time Congress has sought to place restrictions on that commitment.

Akram Shaheedi, a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, said the Pakistani government and people "were not happy with such conditionality." Pakistan is "continuing to follow the democratic path," he said, and "such measures will not weaken Pakistan's resolve to fight out forces of extremism and terrorism."

Lawmakers not only withheld a portion of the funds for Pakistan sought by the administration, but also strictly limited the use of the remaining $250 million to "counterterrorism and law enforcement activities directed against al-Qaeda and the Taliban and associated terrorist groups." The language is intended to make it difficult for Pakistan to use the money to acquire F-16 jets or Sidewinder missiles, which are aimed at India, not at terrorists.

To release the $50 million, the legislation says, Rice must certify that Pakistan is "making concerted efforts" against terrorist havens and implementing a long list of democratic reforms, including ensuring freedom of assembly and expression, releasing political detainees, and restoring an independent judiciary.