WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel voted cuts in aid to Pakistan on Tuesday and threatened to withhold even more cash if Islamabad does not reopen its supply routes for NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, reflecting American frustration over a months-long standoff.
The action by the Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid followed a weekend NATO summit in Chicago at which Washington had hoped to reach a deal with Islamabad to end the supply line dispute.
Pakistan closed the supply routes through its territory to Afghanistan in protest when U.S. aircraft killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border last November. NATO has been seeking to compensate via expanded shipments of war supplies via Afghanistan’s other neighbors but those routes are more expensive.
The Senate panel voted to cut aid to Pakistan by 58 percent in fiscal 2013 from the request by the administration of President Barack Obama, said the panel’s chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, who like Obama is a Democrat.
The senators voted $1 billion for Pakistan, including $800 million in foreign aid. However, funding for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund was limited to just $50 million, and that money was tied to the supply lines’ reopening, said Senator Lindsey Graham, the panel’s top Republican.
“We’re not going to be giving money to an ally that won’t be an ally,” Graham told reporters.
The counterinsurgency fund was established several years ago to help train and equip Pakistan’s military.
The panel’s spending blueprint must still be approved by the full Senate and the House of Representatives before it can become law. But criticism of Pakistan in Congress and demands for a complete aid cutoff have been growing, especially after Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. forces in a Pakistani city a little more than a year ago.
Pakistan has been one of the leading recipients of U.S. foreign aid and in recent years. U.S. lawmakers have approved more than $20 billion in aid and reimbursements since 2001.
The administration suspended $800 million in aid for Pakistan’s military last year but American officials have suggested the aid could be restored if Pakistan would display more commitment to counter-terrorism operations.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Bill Trott