Obama seeks boost in Pakistan aid

WASHINGTON Mon Feb 1, 2010 1:40pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday proposed a half-billion-dollar increase in funding next year to help train and equip Pakistani security forces to fight Islamist militants and also asked for a big hike in economic aid for Islamabad.

The proposed increases in Obama's budget reflects Washington's attempt at long-term stabilization of Pakistan.

The United States is Pakistan's biggest aid donor. Washington wants Pakistan to help hunt for al Qaeda leaders and to stop Islamist militants from crossing the border into Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces there.

Obama requested $1.2 billion for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund for fiscal 2011, a jump from $700 million budgeted the previous year for the fund to help Pakistan defeat extremists within its own borders.

The president also requested $1.322 billion for Pakistan from what is known as the Economic Support Fund (ESF), a House Democratic aide who had seen detailed budget documents told Reuters. This fund promotes economic and political stability in strategically important regions where the United States has special security interests.

That's a proposed increase of $289 million, or not quite a third, in economic aid from that fund to Pakistan from a year earlier, and is consistent with U.S. promises to step up economic aid to Islamabad.

Last year, Obama signed legislation pledging to provide $7.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan over five years. The money must be appropriated by Congress year to year.

Economic support funds are provided on a grant basis and are available for many economic purposes, like infrastructure and development projects. The House aide did not know what how the new funds would be spent in Pakistan.

The administration also asked Congress to approve $296 million for Pakistan from a program called Foreign Military Financing, the House aide said. These are grants given to foreign governments to finance the purchase of American-made weapons, services and training. The amount is roughly the same as last year's request.

Obama's budget proposals must be approved by Congress, which holds the purse strings; this usually takes months.

(Reporting by Adam Entous and Susan Cornwell)

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