Changing mood in US: Bill to restrict US assistance to Pakistan tabled
Washington, July 15: The US House of Representatives has passed a sweeping $696 billion defence policy bill that includes provisions for tightening restrictions on Washington's assistance to Pakistan.
The National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018 exceeded US President Donald Trump's budget request and was decisively adopted by 344 to 81 votes on Friday.
Another congressional panel approved by voice vote the State and Foreign Operations Bill that also suggested increased restrictions on US civil and military assistance to Pakistan, Dawn newspaper reported.
The foreign affairs bill will now go to the Senate for voting. The defence bill authorises $696 billion in defence spending for the 2018 fiscal, including nearly $30 billion more for core Pentagon operations.
All but eight Republicans and 117 Democrats voted for the bill, which surpasses the $549 billion cap on defence spending.
The other legislation, however, would reduce funding for the State Department and foreign operations by $10 billion, down from about $57.4 billion in fiscal 2017.
In total, the bill provides $47.4 billion in both regular discretionary and Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.
OCO funding totals $12 billion, which supports operations and assistance in areas of conflict, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The text of the bill, released earlier this week, includes provisions to make the civil and military aid to Pakistan conditional to Islamabad stopping its alleged support to the Haqqani network and other militant groups in the South Asian regions.
Senior US officials and lawmakers sent clear messages to Pakistan, urging it to help Washington and Afghanistan defeat the Taliban militants.
They also said that the failure to do so would force the US to reconsider its relationship with Pakistan.
US officials and lawmakers, however, left open the option to hold peace talks with the Taliban.
Although in power since January 20, the Trump administration is still finalising a policy for the Pakistan-Afghanistan region and leaks to the media indicate that while the new strategy would suggest both "qualitative and numerical" increase in US military presence in Afghanistan, it will also continue to seek a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert avoided categorising the Taliban as a terrorist outfit. "Our Afghan policy review is still under way. That has not been announced just yet," said Nauert when asked if the Trump administration is going to brand the Taliban as terrorists.