Musharraf Reaches Out To Congress Amid Talk Of Restricting Aid To Pakistan

Tuesday, November 6th 2007, 5:45 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reached out to Democratic leaders on Tuesday amid growing concerns in Congress that U.S. aid should be restricted or cut off until he restores democracy.

President Musharraf called Representative Tom Lantos, D-California, and Senator Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, chairmen of the House and Senate committees that deal with foreign relations issues.

Senator Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, said he told the Pakistani president it was critical he allow the elections in January as planned, and that he ``take off his uniform'' and ``restore the rule of law.''

``It is clear to me from our conversation that President Musharraf understands the consequences for his country and for relations with the United States if he does not return Pakistan to the path of democracy,'' Senator Joseph Biden said in a statement.

Representative Tom Lantos declined to comment.

President Musharraf's phone calls come as the President Bush’s administration is reviewing its aid package to Pakistan and several lawmakers have said they want to see new restrictions on the funding.

Also this week, Senator John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, was drafting a resolution that would condemn the military crackdown.

``President Musharraf must be told to revoke martial law, release the thousands of Pakistanis imprisoned in recent days, restore freedom of the press, relinquish his military position and proceed with democratic reforms,'' said Representative Jane Harman, D-California, upon returning from a trip to the Middle East.

``American military and economic aid should be suspended until he does so,'' Representative Jane Harman said.

The White House has said it is reviewing U.S. assistance to Pakistan in light of the developments. Such aid has amounted to $9.6 billion dollars since 2001, not including another $800 million the administration is requesting from Congress for the current budget year.

President Musharraf has imposed a state of emergency he says is necessary to prevent a takeover by Islamic extremists. His actions, which include suspending his country's constitution and ousting its top judge, have drawn widespread criticism, including both members of the aisle in Congress.

Representative John Tierney, D-Massachusetts, said Congress should consider freezing any non-reimbursable aid to Pakistan, such as weapons provided to its military.

``I think it would get his attention,'' said Representative John Tierney, D-Massachusetts, who chairs a foreign affairs panel on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. ``I don't know that it would force him to do anything, but it certainly would have an impact'' because ``it's money they perceive as important.''

But at the same time, U.S. officials say they are concerned with going too far in rebuking a close ally or hurting its ability to go after terrorists within its borders.

Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he is reviewing the 2008 defense authorization bill, under negotiation with the House, and existing law to ensure there is adequate balance.

The goal is to support counterterrorism efforts ``in a way which we don't in any way undermine the democratic forces in Pakistan. We've got to calibrate it,'' said Senator Carl Levin, D-Michigan.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, met on Tuesday with the head of the Pakistani election commission ``to again reiterate our view that the elections need to take place as scheduled in January and also need to take place in an atmosphere free from intimidation. The elections need to be conducted, as well, in a free, fair and transparent manner.''

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was scheduled to testify on Pakistan on Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It was unclear whether he would announce any changes to U.S. policy.

A senior State Department official said the administration's review would probably take time. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions were ongoing.

``Even for more cut-and-dried things like Fiji and Thailand, it took us a bit to figure out what we did and didn't want to do,'' the official said. The ``level of complication on this is more akin to the review taken after the Palestinian elections.''