Netherlands Cuts Millions in Aid to Pakistan, Other Countries May Follow

The Dutch government froze millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan on Monday and other Western countries said they were reviewing their own assistance programs in response to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's decision to impose emergency rule.

Pakistan's most important ally, the United States, criticized Musharraf, but indicated it was not planning to cut any of the billions of dollars it gives the country in military funding.

Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested the Bush administration does not want to disrupt its partnership with Pakistan in fighting al-Qaida and other militants -- a relationship that dates back to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We are reviewing all of our assistance programs, although we are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts," Gates said.

The Netherlands froze almost all of its millions in aid in hopes of pressuring Musharraf to restore democratic and constitutional guarantees and confirm intentions to hold parliamentary elections in January, Foreign Ministry spokesman Francesco Mascini said.

Musharraf has made a "dramatic power grab that's bad for democracy, the people and the development of Pakistan," Dutch Deputy Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told Dutch NOS news.

Musharraf's government suspended the constitution Saturday and has since arrested more than 1,500 people, including opposition leaders, lawyers and human rights activists. The government has said parliamentary elections could be delayed up to a year. The state of emergency came before an expected Supreme Court ruling on whether Musharraf's recent re-election as president was legal.

The U.N.'s top rights official, Louise Arbour, urged Pakistan not to detain individuals "for the peaceful exercise of their political beliefs," her spokesman Jose Diaz said.

Among those detained was Asma Jahangir, a U.N.-appointed expert on religious freedom and chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists said Jahangir was put under house arrest for 90-days to prevent her making "inflammatory speeches."

Rice called again on Musharraf, who also is the military chief of staff, to sever his affiliation with the army and restore civilian rule.

"I want to be very clear. We believe that the best path for Pakistan is to quickly return to a constitutional path and then to hold elections," Rice said while visiting the West Bank.

Britain said it was reviewing aid programs but was now committed to providing $493 million in aid to Pakistan over three years.

"We do keep these things under review but the key thing is that we would like to see confirmation that elections will be held on schedule in January and we do want to see the restoration of normal democratic and constitutional processes," said Michael Ellam, a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

German Development Ministry spokesman Markus Weidling said his country would reconsider funding for some projects in areas such as energy development, but others aimed at "the advancement of civil society, particularly women and children, will be supported in future as well, without limitation."

The Netherlands does not give direct aid to the Pakistani government, but programs for water, environmental management and education, which are overseen by the government, will be halted immediately, spokesman Mascini said.

He said the government would suspend the remainder of the $22 million that had yet to be paid this year. Most of the funds already have been transferred.

Mascini said the Netherlands also would freeze $58 million in aid it planned to give Pakistan next year, mostly for educational and environmental purposes.

However, the Dutch would continue to pay a small amount, less than $7.2 million, earmarked for local development organizations for "human rights and democratization," he said.