WASHINGTON – Pakistan should get $1.1 billion in U.S. funds that have been held up for months now that Islamabad has reopened crucial NATO supply lines to Afghanistan, top senators said Tuesday.
A major obstacle to releasing the money was removed last week when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton apologized to Pakistan for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops last fall and Pakistan, in return, agreed to reopen the overland supply lines to U.S.-led coalition forces. Congress has already approved the money to reimburse Pakistan for counterterrorism operations, but it has been on hold for some six months.
Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and one of the panel's top Republicans, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the money should be released, albeit reluctantly.
"They don't deserve it. What they've done is presumably earned it by the amount of money they've laid out in terms of their anti-terrorist activity and protecting our lines," Levin told a group of reporters.
He said he would vote to approve the release.
The Pentagon intends to submit $1.1 billion in approved requests for reimbursement of money the Pakistan government has spent on counterterrorism operations that were incurred largely along the border.
"If our commanders believe that releasing the funds helps the war effort — yes. I don't want to second guess these people," Graham said. "Pakistan on a good day is very hard. It is an unreliable ally. You can't trust them, you can't abandon them. The biggest beneficiary is the men and women fighting the war. And I want Pakistan to be stable. And if the money helps them become more stable, good.
"If you cut the money off, what leverage do you have? There may come a day when we do that, but not yet," he said.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is pushing for a vote later this month to cut off future funds. That vote is contingent in part on what Pakistan does in the case of Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden but was convicted and sentenced to 33 years for high treason. Afridi ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA and verify bin Laden's presence at the compound in Abbottabad where U.S. commandos found and killed the al-Qaida leader in May 2011.
His appeal trial is scheduled for July 19.
Moira Bagley, a spokeswoman for Paul, said it was unclear whether the Senate would get a vote on the reimbursement money because the funds have been appropriated.
Lawmakers have shown their frustration with Pakistan on future budget requests. In May, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to slash millions in foreign aid to Pakistan from the Obama administration request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Members of Congress have questioned Islamabad's commitment to the fight against terrorism and resentment still lingers on Capitol Hill more than a year after bin Laden was killed deep inside Pakistan.