ISLAMABAD – A crisis in relations looked set to deepen after a US House-Senate negotiating panel agreed to freeze $700 million in US aid to Pakistan until it gives assurances it is helping fight the spread of improvised explosive devices in the region.
Pakistan is one of the largest recipients of US foreign aid, and the cutback announced is only a small proportion of the billions in civil and military assistance it gets each year.
But it could presage greater cuts as calls grow in the United States to penalise Islamabad for failing to act against militant groups and, at worst, helping them, following the secret US raid on a Pakistan military town in which al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed.
Home-made bombs or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are among militants’ most effective weapons against US and coalition troops in Afghanistan as they struggle to fight a resurgent Taliban insurgency.
Many are made using ammonium nitrate, a common fertilizer smuggled across the border from Pakistan. The freeze on US aid was agreed as part of a defense bill that is expected to be passed this week.
The United States wants “assurances that Pakistan is countering improvised explosive devices in their country that are targeting our coalition forces”, Representative Howard McKeon, a House Republican, told reporters.
The United States has allocated some $20 billion in security and economic aid to Pakistan since 2001, much of it in the form of reimbursements for assistance in fighting militants.
But US lawmakers have expressed increasing frustration with Pakistan’s efforts in the war.