WASHINGTON, Nov 7 (Reuters) The United States faces a dilemma trying to find a way to press Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to reverse emergency rule without undermining his army's critical fight against Islamic militants.
The State Department said yesterday that after Mushurraf's broad crackdown on opposition, it was committed to a thorough review of US aid to Pakistan, which has reached nearly 10 billion dollars since the September 11 attacks.
Senior lawmakers who head congressional committees that control the US foreign aid budget are condemning the Bush administration for coddling Musharraf and demanding tougher steps against the military officer who has run the nuclear-armed country since a 1999 coup.
''The United States will continue its support to the Pakistani people,'' said Vermont Sen Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees funding for US assistance to Pakistan.
''But US aid to the Musharraf government should stop until constitutional order, civil liberties and judicial independence are restored, until political prisoners are released, and until free and fair elections are allowed,'' he said.
Leahy was echoed in the House of Representatives by his counterpart New York Democrat Rep. Nita Lowey, who heads the appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations.
''In light of President Musharraf's disturbing actions, Congress and the Department of State should review all relevant economic and military aid from which Pakistan currently benefits in order to ensure that taxpayers' money is advancing American interests in the region,'' she said.
US legislators will have a fresh chance to vent and grill Bush administration officials on Wednesday, when Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte testifies to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
''HORNS OF A DILEMMA'' At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said officials would be ''absolutely faithful'' in upholding US laws conditioning military aid to Pakistan and were doing an inventory of aid programs and related laws.
He indicated how much Pakistan's role in the war against Islamic extremism would weigh on the debate.
''I don't think that anybody expects that the president or the government is going to take a step that might make the United States less safe or might diminish our capabilities to fight terror,'' McCormack said.
President George W. Bush urged Musharraf to lift the emergency, hold elections and quit as army chief. But asked what he would do if US pleas do not, Bush said: ''Obviously we'll deal with it if something other than that happens.'' Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said US clout with Pakistan is not as large as the aid budget would suggest.
Washington has more leverage in Islamabad than anyone but the Chinese, ''but not enough leverage to really get them to rethink what they believe to be in their fundamental national interests or in this case in Musharraf's personal political interests,'' he said.
Markey, a former diplomat, suggested sanctions could target Musharraf without alienating the army or endangering the wider war in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
''It's a possibility that you could structure sanctions in such a way that they were Musharraf-linked rather than really cutting off aid to the Pakistani army,'' he said.
Author and commentator Shuja Nawaz said the United States should avoid a ''blanket cutoff that hurt all of the Pakistani people, not just the army'' but be willing to brave some resentment at higher levels in the Pakistan military.
''This might be the only lever the US has to pull that might force the military to put pressure on him to basically live up to his own promises,'' said Nawaz, author of forthcoming book on the Pakistan army.
Heritage Foundation analyst Lisa Curtis said the United States could not afford to jeopardize the fight against al Qaeda and Taliban elements in Pakistan's tribal areas.
''But there could be delays in the pipeline if we're looking at military items that wouldn't particularly be used in the war on terrorism, such as the F-16 aircraft,'' she said.
Bush's critics would reach conclusions similar to the president when they studied U.S. options on Pakistan, Curtis said.
''The Congressional officials who are complaining about the Bush administration policy, when it comes right down to it and they start looking at what can be done, I think they are going to understand quite clearly the horns of the dilemma that the Bush administration is on.'' REUTERS MP AS0445