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  US spending bill gets tough on Pak; incorporates Trump’s security aid freeze

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Washington, Mar 22 : The freeze on security aid to Pakistan, announced by the Donald Trump Administration early this year, has been incorporated in the USD 1.3 trillion spending bill which will fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal 2018.

Congressional leaders, after weeks of negotiations, last night reached a deal on federal spending till September 30, two days before a deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown.

The 2,232-page draft bill provides the largest funding increase for the US military in 15 years and makes significant investments in national priorities like infrastructure and border security.

In January, the US had suspended about USD 2 billion in security aid to Pakistan for failing to clamp down on the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network terror groups and dismantle their “safe havens”.

According to the legislation, any assistance to Pakistan under the “Foreign Military Financing Programme” may be made available only to support counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capabilities in Pakistan.

The bill withholds USD 33 million in financial assistance to Pakistan unless the Secretary of State informs the Congress that Dr Shakil Afridi is released from jail and cleared of all charges relating to the assistance provided to the US in locating Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

In 30 days of the enactment of the Act, the Secretary of State would consult with the Committees on Appropriations on the funds that is anticipated to be subject to the January 2018 policy decision of the Trump Administration to suspend security assistance for Pakistan.

The Congress expects the Secretary of State to promptly inform it in the case of any changes to its current policy along with its justification.

For the civilian assistance to Pakistan, the omnibus spending bill asks the Secretary of State to provide a report on the amount of financing and other support, if any, provided by the Pakistan government to schools supported by, affiliated with, or run by the Taliban or any domestic or foreign terrorist organisation in that country.

The Congress would also seek certification from the Defense Secretary and the Secretary of State on issues, including that the Pakistan government was cooperating with the US in counter-terrorism efforts against the Haqqani Network, the Quetta Shura Taliban, the Lashkar e-Tayyiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Al Qaeda and other domestic and foreign “terrorist organizations”.

Also, that they were taking steps to end support for such groups and prevent them from basing and operating in Pakistan and carrying out cross border attacks into neighboring countries.

They also need to certify that Pakistan is not supporting terrorist activities against the US or coalition forces in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies are not intervening extra-judicially into political and judicial processes.

The Defense Secretary and the Secretary of State also need to certify that Pakistan is dismantling improvised explosive device (IED) networks and interdicting precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of IEDs; preventing the proliferation of nuclear-related material and expertise; and implementing policies to protect judicial independence and due process of law.

However, as is in all such cases, there is provision of national interest waiver; but this needs to be on a case-by-case basis with proper explanation to the Congress, the bill says.

Republican leaders had said that the House of Representatives plans to vote today, which would soon be followed by the Senate.

The White House had yesterday said that the President has agreed to the bill.