Message in the cut

Pakistan will feel it. But it won’t hurt at all.

Chidanand Rajghatta reports that the US Congress has cut economic and military aid to Pakistan by US$350 million for the coming financial year. He rightly calls it a signal to the Bush administration to defend its fruitless indulgence of Pakistan’s military regime.

“From the full pardon that President Musharraf granted Abdul Qadeer Khan, who admitted to spreading nuclear weapons technology to Iran and North Korea, to frequent reports of human rights abuses, Pakistan cannot expect full support from the United States without providing answers to some serious questions,” Congressman Crowley said. “By reducing this aid to Pakistan, we are sending a message that democracy must eventually be restored and that human rights must be upheld. Even with our allies, the United States firmly is committed to seeing that all people are treated with the respect and dignity of the rule of law.” [Rep Joseph Crowley]

Pakistan has reacted with silence, while pointing out that a similar Congressional cut was restored by the Bush adminstration last year. The reduction in aid is too small to pinch the Musharraf regime. But by implementing it Congress has put the onus on the Bush administration to justify continuing its Pakistan policy. That this scrutiny is a result of a combination of normal political theatre and institutional checks and balances should not make it any less welcome.

Divining Washington’s mood is an important part of Pakistani political life. These cuts will no doubt add to the view that Musharraf’s moment of reckoning is fast approaching.

But don’t expect this move to make an iota of difference to Pakistan’s defence expenditure, procurement, proliferation or indeed its attitude towards such niceties as human rights. All for $350 million? You must be kidding, Mr Crowley.

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