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02 December 2023

Obama releases $1.45 billion Pakistan aid plan

By Reuters

The Obama administration sent lawmakers this week a plan for $1.45 billion in aid for Pakistan this year, funding water, energy and other projects as well as a media campaign to counter extremist views.

The 2010 spending plan was sent to lawmakers late on Thursday as part of the US administration's obligation to consult Congress over the civilian aid package.
The aid is aimed at expanding ties with Islamabad beyond military spending, which amounted to more than $10 billion over the past nine years.
"It represents a rebalancing of the military and civilian assistance," Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew said of the package, part of a $7.5 billion, five-year aid plan passed by Congress for Pakistan last year.
Pakistan is seen as a critical component in the US battle against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan and the civilian aid is seen as an important tool to help fight extremists who threaten to destabilise the entire region.
Washington also wants to help Pakistan's weak government meet budget shortfalls and deliver services to a population increasingly angry about economic and security troubles.
The 15-page spending plan said the Obama administration was working closely with Pakistan's government to design "high-impact" projects in energy, agriculture, water and education and to improve services and economic opportunities for people in areas susceptible to extremism.
The "funding will help build the capacity of the government of Pakistan to provide basic services while extending its writ in poorer areas vulnerable to extremism," said the report.
The biggest chunk of the money -- just over a billion -- covers economic support, including funds to build up weak government capacity at both the local and national levels.
Infrastructure projects took up $55 million, with a focus on energy and helping to ease rolling blackouts that have crippled some industries and are a major public irritant.
"Over time, this assistance will strengthen ties between the American and Pakistani people by showing the US commitment to helping Pakistan address its water and energy crises, which are some of the most pressing needs of the Pakistani people," the report said."
There is strong anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and the hope is this new assistance will help ease that tension.
About $50 million was set aside for a "comprehensive communications strategy" to counter extremist views and strengthen Pakistani institutions and moderate voices, the report to Congress said.
"This effort will reduce the ability of Al Qaeda and other extremists to influence public perceptions and attitudes and support Pakistan's people and government as they establish a more secure, prosperous and lasting state," the report said.
This would include a so-called rapid response team to monitor Pakistani and regional media and "swiftly correct inaccurate reporting," of which the United States complains it is often a target.
About $150 million was devoted to health and $335 million for basic and higher education projects, particularly in areas where the government's current capacity was poor, thus increasing its legitimacy as services improved.
An additional $130 million was in the budget to help State Department law enforcement and counter-narcotics efforts in Pakistan, including the purchase of more helicopters and funds to improve the investigative skills of local law enforcement.
The United States has a difficult relationship with Pakistan and at the end of last year, Islamabad said US funding had slowed despite promises of a big injection of aid.
Washington countered that a refusal by Pakistan to issue visas to US officials needed to oversee aid programs was the cause of the delay.
The State Department's Lew said there had been fewer problems with visas of late as relations improved.
Those tensions have also subsided after Pakistan's recent arrest of high-level Taliban leaders on its territory, including a military commander picked up in a joint US-Pakistani raid in the port city of Karachi.