U.S. aid linked to reforms, lawmakers tell Pakistan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two senior U.S. senators have warned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in a letter that future U.S. aid will be influenced by Pakistan’s progress toward democratic, civilian-led rule.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is seen under his country's flag in Srebrenica in this April 28, 2007 file photo. Two senior U.S. senators have warned Musharraf in a letter that future U.S. aid will be influenced by Pakistan's progress toward democratic, civilian-led rule. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Democrats Joe Biden and Patrick Leahy, who chair key Senate committees on foreign policy and foreign aid, sent the letter last week as Pakistan prepared for an election set for this Saturday that is expected to return Musharraf as president.

Biden and Leahy cited recent decisions on the election’s conduct -- including Musharraf’s standing for re-election while remaining as army chief -- that they said could discredit the political process and tarnish results.

They were also concerned the president will be chosen by the current parliament and assemblies, rather than an electoral college due to be constituted after upcoming parliamentary and assembly elections.

“We have watched events of recent weeks with considerable unease,” Biden, of Delaware, and Leahy, of Vermont, said in the Sept. 28 letter obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.

The senators described themselves as “friends of Pakistan” who looked forward to “promoting significant support” for it. But they warned, “The degree to which we will be able to do so will be directly influenced by the political developments of the coming weeks.”

Biden chairs the Foreign Relations Committee and Leahy chairs the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee.

Pakistan, an important ally in the U.S. war on terror, this year received about $700 million in U.S. economic and military aid. In 2008, it is expected to receive more than $800 million.

Congressional aides estimated Pakistan also has received some $10 billion in U.S. counter-terrorism aid in the last six years, as Washington has enlisted Musharraf’s help to root out al Qaeda and the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

But U.S. lawmakers have become more vocal about their expectations of Musharraf, a general who took power in a 1999 coup. Last summer Congress passed a measure tying U.S. aid to Pakistan to its progress in cracking down on al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militants.

That legislation also called for Pakistan to implement democratic reforms, including allowing “free, fair and inclusive elections.”

Musharraf has been trying to reach a power-sharing deal with Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, but she said on Wednesday that the talks had stalled and she expected her party’s members of parliament to resign.

Bhutto, who plans to return to Pakistan on Oct. 18 after eight years of exile, accused Musharraf of failing to deliver on promises of a return to democracy.