US quietly releasing $1.6 billion in military, economic aid to Pakistan
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk publicly about the aid relationship ahead of Sharif's visit. They said the money would start reaching Pakistan in 2014 but take several years to disburse fully.
In its notifications to Congress, the department described fighting terrorism as a mutual concern but said little about the will of Pakistan's government, army and intelligence services to crack down on militant groups that often have operated with impunity in Pakistan while wreaking havoc on U.S. and international forces across the border in Afghanistan.
Top American officials have regularly questioned Pakistan's commitment to counterterrorism.
In 2011, Adm. Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the militant Haqqani network as a "veritable arm" of Pakistani intelligence. Lawmakers and administration officials have cited Pakistani support for the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other militant groups.
In September, the administration sent officials from multiple agencies for closed-doors briefings with the House and Senate foreign relations committees, officials and congressional aides said.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has cleared all of the notifications. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is reviewing a $280 million chunk of military financing, Senate aides said. Aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk publicly on the matter.
"The committee held up the projects to get more information and express concerns," said the office of Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the House panel's chairman. "Though they went forward, the committee continues its close oversight."
While Washington has publicly challenged Islamabad to step up its fight against militant groups, Pakistan's biggest complaint has been the huge surge in drone strikes on terrorist targets, which Pakistanis see as violations of their sovereignty. The number of attacks has dropped dramatically this year.
The countries say they're now moving past the flaps and mishaps that soured their partnership in recent years. During an August trip to Pakistan, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the restart of a high-level "strategic dialogue" with Pakistan on fighting terrorism, controlling borders and fostering investment.
Among the economic aid programs included in the U.S. package, support for the Diamer-Basha dam near Pakistan's unresolved border with India has the potential for controversy and tremendous benefit.
Pakistan's government has been unable to secure money for the project from the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank is waiting to hear from the United States and India before providing financing to help construction. The dam faces massive funding shortfalls.
In its July 24 notification to Congress, USAID said the project could cost up to $15 billion and take a decade to complete. The agency promised only to provide "financial and technical assistance" for studies, including on environmental and social aspects, while expressing hope the dam could be transformative for a country with chronic power shortages. State Department officials put the bill for the studies at $20 million.
If the dam were ultimately built, USAID wrote, it could provide electricity for 60 million people and 1 million acres of crop land, and provide a ready supply of water for millions more. It noted that Pakistani officials have sought American support at the "highest levels."
Despite amounting to just a small portion of the overall U.S. aid package, congressional aides said Pakistan's government has lobbied particularly hard for the dam money to be unlocked.
Pakistan's embassy in Washington refused to comment on the aid or say if Sharif would bring up any specific programs in talks at the White House.
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