(Adds comments on Pakistan cooperation in 16th paragraph.)
Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Slashing American aid to Pakistan, a step advocated by some lawmakers and Republican presidential candidates, would harden public opinion there against the U.S., Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington said.
“Putting restrictions on aid after voting for it is counterproductive,” Husain Haqqani said today at a breakfast with journalists hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. Stopping aid entirely “is likely to have an adverse impact that our relationship could do without,” he said.
Pakistan is the third-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid after Afghanistan and Israel, according to the Congressional Research Service. Relations between Pakistan and the U.S. have suffered this year, following the arrest of a U.S. contractor for killing two Pakistanis, the U.S. raid that that killed Osama bin Laden, and public accusations by top U.S. officials that Pakistan was aiding terrorists.
Haqqani said that while ties have frayed, “both sides are still engaged, and engaged at the highest levels.”
Assistance to Pakistan, which became a leading recipient of U.S. aid for counterterrorism efforts following the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks on the U.S., is small compared with the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.
Since fiscal 2002, the U.S. has provided more than $22 billion in military and civilian assistance to Pakistan, according to the Congressional Research Service. That’s roughly the same as two months of spending on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq this fiscal year, according to the Pentagon Comptroller’s office.
In the Nov. 12 Republican presidential debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry said he’d demand that any country seeking U.S. assistance make its case every year rather than being awarded a set amount annually or under multi-year plans.
“The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is gonna start at zero dollars,” Perry said.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich agreed in the debate with the principle of zero-based aid budgeting that would evaluate each country anew. Perry said he didn’t trust Pakistan’s leadership, while presidential candidate Herman Cain said he wasn’t sure if Pakistan was a friend or a foe.
“There is hostile public opinion toward Pakistan in the U.S., and there is hostile public opinion in Pakistan toward the U.S.,” Haqqani said, citing a Pakistani poll showing 12 percent approval for Pakistan’s alliance with the U.S.
‘Hearts and Minds’
Haqqani said those who’d cut Pakistan’s assistance miss the point that “aid provides an instrument of influence” for the U.S. in Pakistan. American money provides health care, education, flood relief and other vital social needs, helping the U.S. win “hearts and minds.”
“For your point of view, it makes sense to continue” such aid, Haqqani said. Threatening to slash aid when relations between the government are strained “erodes good will” among the public, he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently defended U.S. cooperation with Pakistan before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where lawmakers questioned Pakistan’s willingness to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries inside its borders that are used to launch attacks on U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
“Many of our successes against al-Qaeda would not have been possible without close cooperation” with Pakistan, Clinton testified Oct. 27.
Last month, Clinton visited both Afghanistan and Pakistan, where she, CIA Director David Petraeus and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, urged Pakistan to coordinate with U.S., NATO and Afghan forces on intelligence and covert operations to “squeeze” insurgents on both sides of the porous border.
Haqqani said the U.S. and Pakistan understand each other’s concerns and the limits on what each side can do.
“We are moving ahead in ways that American lives won’t be put at risk in Afghanistan, and that ensure Pakistan is able to maintain its interests.”
The Pakistani envoy said his government has made clear it won’t launch a ground war in the border region of North Waziristan, where the Haqqani terror network has a haven. The U.S. accuses the network of the Sept. 13 assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul. The network is no relation to the ambassador of the same name.
The ambassador said Pakistan cannot take action that risks “our own internal cohesion” or national security.
Clinton, in an Oct. 22 interview with Bloomberg News following her trip to Islamabad, said the U.S. urged “different ways of fighting besides overt military action” and that Pakistan should fully share intelligence about terrorist suspects and plots. Better coordination might prevent incidents like the attack on the American Embassy, she said.
Haqqani said that the U.S. has pressed for joint covert action. It will “take time for details to be worked out” and the U.S. “understands and accepts that,” he said.
--Editors: Steven Komarow, Justin Blum
To contact the reporter on this story: Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at email@example.com