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Obama signs major Pakistan aid bill

President Barack Obama signs into law a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan that the U.S.-ally's military criticizes as American meddling in its internal affairs.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama on Thursday signed into law a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan that the U.S.-ally's military criticized as American meddling in its internal affairs.

The measure provides $1.5 billion annually over five years for economic and social programs and comes as Pakistan faces a string of violent militant attacks and bombings as its military plans an offensive into the Taliban heartland.

The law is an attempt by the Obama administration to strengthen the weak civilian government in Islamabad and encourage its fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants operating along the border with Afghanistan, where the United States is fighting an eight-year war.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan's stability is deemed crucial to U.S.-led efforts to battle extremists in South Asia.

The White House said the law, which was passed unanimously by the U.S. Congress, is "the tangible manifestation of broad support for Pakistan in the U.S."

But it was only signed after a rushed visit this week to Washington by Pakistan's foreign minister, who secured assurances from senior U.S. lawmakers that the bill is not an attempt to micromanage operations by the powerful military and the U.S.-backed civilian government.

The bill was not changed before Obama signed it. Democratic Sen. John Kerry and Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, however, did provide an unusual written statement to accompany the bill that states that "any interpretation of this act which suggests that the United States does not fully recognize and respect the sovereignty of Pakistan would be directly contrary to congressional intent."

The bill would provide Pakistan with $1.5 billion a year over the next five years to spend on democratic, economic and social development programs. Pakistan's military and others, however, have objected to language that links money for counterterrorism assistance to Pakistan cracking down on militancy and meeting other conditions.

The congressional statement says that no conditions are placed on the $7.5 billion in nonmilitary aid.

The legislation requires the U.S. Secretary of State to report to Congress every six months on whether Pakistan's civilian government maintains effective control over the military's budgets, chain of command and top promotions.

The statement said the bill's requirements are "accountability measures" placed on the United States to ensure that the aid directly benefits the Pakistani people. It said that the bill does not seek to micromanage Pakistani military or civilian affairs, "including the promotion of Pakistani military officers or the internal operations of the Pakistani military."