(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he cannot support legislation introduced by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (D-Ind.) that would give Pakistan $15 billion in non-military aid over the next 10 years because the Obama Administration does not have a comprehensive plan for ensuring the money is spent as designated and does not become unaccounted for--like the $12 billion given to Pakistan by the Bush administration.
Menendez made the remarks as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which heard testimony on Tuesday from Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the U.S. State Department.
“I have grave concerns, I have to be honest with you,” Menendez said to Holbrooke. “It’s those concerns that led Sen. [Tom] Harkin (D-Iowa) and myself to ask for a government accountability report [on U.S. aid to Pakistan].”
That report, “Securing, Stabilizing, and Developing Pakistan’s Border Area with Afghanistan,” issued in February 2009, says that the United States lacked a comprehensive plan, including putting into place a way to ensure that funds given to Pakistan by the United States could be accurately tracked.
“Basically, that report said that after six years of efforts by the United States and the Pakistani government and over $12 billion, the military and development assistance, the Taliban, and I quote, ‘regenerated its ability to attack the United States and continues to maintain a safe haven in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) region,” Menendez said.
“The question is, do we not need a comprehensive strategy that the government accountability [office] called for?” said Menendez. “And secondly, what is it? And thirdly, the Pakistanis, in my mind, have had a series of one step forward, two steps backwards.”
Holbrooke claimed that President Barack Obama does have a comprehensive plan that includes building roads and clinics, increasing educational opportunities, and stabilizing the government so it can survive as a democracy.
“Senator, I am deeply troubled by what you said,” Holbrooke responded to Menendez’s remarks, adding that Obama laid out the plan in a Mar. 27 speech at the White House where he vowed to defeat terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including al Qaeda.
When asked by CNSNews.com as he left the hearing about the U.S. State Department’s 2008 Human Rights Report and the 2008 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom document about ongoing human and religious rights abuses, including “extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances” in Pakistan, Menendez said those facts reflect his concerns about the Kerry-Lugar Bill, which was introduced this week.
“Certainly [human and religious rights] should be part of a comprehensive strategy, which is one of my concerns that I was trying to push here at the hearing--is that if you are going to strengthen democracy as part of the comprehensive strategy in Pakistan, democracy also understands religious freedom, it also understands basic human rights, it understands the rule of law,” Menendez said. “And so you cannot have a comprehensive strategy after having spent $12 billion and then spend billions more unless you address those kinds of issues.”
Menendez said the Kerry-Lugar Bill, among other things, does not address human rights abuses in Pakistan.
“No, absolutely not,” Menendez told CNSNews.com.
In his opening statement, Foreign Relations Chairman Kerry said his bill--"The Enchanced Partnership and Pakistan Act"--was a departure from the Bush administration emphasis on a military strategy and is “designed to redefine not only America’s policy toward Pakistan but also our relations with the Pakistani people.”
“I am pleased that the president has asked Congress to pass it,” Kerry said.
The report by the Government Accountability Office that Menendez referred to, however, shows that the Bush administration’s strategy to help fight terrorism and support the democratic government in Pakistan included diplomatic, economic, law enforcement and infrastructure elements.
In his opening statement, Holbrooke said helping Pakistan was critical for the nation’s security because the western region of Pakistan is the “epicenter” of the terrorist threat to the United States.
Menendez said that while he supports efforts to help Pakistan, he cannot support the Kerry-Lugar bill without being convinced the Obama administration has a clear strategy.
“I’m talking about a strategy that brings in the military aspect, that brings in the diplomatic aspect, the economic element, that brings in the intelligence element, that brings in the law enforcement element, that brings in the rule of law element,” Menendez said, “and I don’t get the sense that we have that.”
The Kerry-Lugar bill will give Pakistan $7.5 billion in non-military aid over five years ($1.5 billion a year), with a request for an additional $7.5 billion over the following five years. The legislation does call for the Pakistani government to certify that it is fighting terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, and calls for reviews of the aid every six months over the course of the funding.