US stops $700 million aid to Pakistan

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Washington: The US House of Representatives has passed a huge $662 billion defence bill that freezes $700 million for Pakistan until the Congress is provided a report on how Islamabad is tackling the threat of improvised explosive devices.

Passed Wednesday with a 283-136 vote with bipartisan support in a bitterly divided Congress, the measure is expected to be approved by the Senate on Thursday before it is sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.

However, in practical terms, the Pakistan aid freeze provision is unlikely to have any major impact as officials have made clear that Washington is in no hurry to turn the tap off amid a tense standoff with a key ally over the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO strike last month.

As State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, Tuesday explained, once the aid freeze provision becomes a law, the Obama administration would find ways of complying with it.

“If this legislation becomes law, we’ll work with the government of Pakistan on how we can fulfil the requirements. But this requires us to maintain a strategic perspective and to be clear with our Congress about the strategy,” she said.

The House vote on the defence bill on Wednesday came just hours after the administration abandoned a veto threat over provisions dealing with the handling of terrorism suspects after House and Senate negotiators agreed to a few changes desired by the White House.

In a statement, press secretary Jay Carney said the new bill “does not challenge the President’s ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the American people”.

Specifically, the bill would require that the military take custody of a suspect deemed to be a member of Al Qaeda or its affiliates and who is involved in plotting or committing attacks on the US. There is an exemption for US citizens.

The bill also says the President can waive the provision based on national security.