Wednesday, March 4, 2009

US senators urge rethink on Pakistan

WASHINGTON: US senators on Monday urged a rethink on aid to Pakistan after a watchdog said more than 12 billion dollars in US spending had failed to eliminate the country's militant haven.
The call came as the foreign ministers of Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan start a week of talks in Washington with President Barack Obama's administration on how to combat extremism.
The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found the United States has spent 12.3 billion dollars since 2002 aiming to end the "terrorist threat" on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
"Despite six years of US and Pakistani government efforts, Al-Qaeda has regenerated its ability to attack the United States and continues to maintain a safe haven in Pakistan?s FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas)," it said.
The tribal areas, which border Afghanistan, have never been fully under Pakistani control and are believed to be the hideout for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants forced out of Afghanistan following the 2001 US military offensive.
Senator Robert Menendez, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on international assistance, said the report showed US aid to Pakistan was not working.
"It's clear that the strategy in place over the past seven years must be rethought if we are to improve our security," said Menendez, a member of Obama's Democratic Party.
"I look forward to working on a policy that focuses assistance on institutions that help ensure long-term stability and minimize the threat in Pakistan," he said in a statement.
Senator Tom Harkin said the previous administration of George W. Bush had "thrown billions of taxpayer dollars down a rabbit hole.
"This colossal foreign policy and national security failure is yet another legacy item of the Bush administration -- one that we will work to turn around with President Obama and the new Congress," he said.
A deputy to Pakistan's top Taliban commander on Monday declared a unilateral ceasefire in Bajaur, one of the seven federally administered tribal areas, after a months-long operation by Pakistani forces.
Islamabad says the offensive proves its commitment to crush the insurgents, despite heavy criticism from US and Afghan officials who say Pakistan is not doing enough to stop militants crossing into Afghanistan. AFP

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