May 12th, 2009
03:30 PM ET
14 years ago

U.S. to send emergency aid to Pakistan

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The United States is rushing emergency aid to Pakistan - an initial $5 million - to help people uprooted by the fighting against extremists, according to the State Department.

The U.S. had urged the Pakistanis to launch the military action that in recent days has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their villages.

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took a longer-term view Tuesday and discussed how the United States might triple aid to Pakistan over the next five years.

The State Department said Tuesday the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan and officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development were evaluating the needs of civilians fleeing the Swat valley and surrounding regions in northwest Pakistan.

"We are of course very concerned about the well-being of civilians who are fleeing the fighting in the area," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. "And we have personnel, USAID personnel, on the ground in Pakistan, not in the Swat valley, but in Pakistan, who are directing assistance to help them."

"We've provided a substantial amount of money through the International Organization for Migration," Kelly said at his daily briefing in Washington. "This is primarily to provide tents, provide shelter and emergency relief supplies, food and medicine to the affected populations."

Kelly said the $5 million was just an initial payment.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, praised the new military offensive by the Pakistan military.

"In recent days we have seen encouraging signs that Pakistan's army is finally taking the fight to enemy, but much remains to be done," Kerry said in his opening to a hearing on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Kerry and the senior Republican on the committee, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, have introduced legislation to triple non-military U.S. aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year, for five years.

The Obama administration envoy on Pakistan and Afghanistan policy, long-time diplomat Richard Holbrooke, spoke to the Senate committee Tuesday about what the U.S. has at stake in Pakistan. "This is as tough as anything I've ever seen before, anything I've ever worked on," Holbrooke said.

"We are in Afghanistan and Pakistan because of 9/11, because al Qaida and its allies are camped out in western Pakistan and have pledged and promised and predicted and threatened to do it again to us and other countries."

Kerry said the U.S. must mend was he called "a broken relationship with the Pakistani people."

"Today an alarming number of Pakistanis actually view America as a greater threat than al Qaeda," Kerry said. "Until this changes, there's little chance of ending tolerance for terrorist groups, or persuading any Pakistani government to devote the political capital necessary to deny such groups sanctuary and covert material support."

But the aid package for Pakistan has its critics, both Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, said Congress should slow down consideration of new aid to Pakistan. "We have not hashed out what's happening, and we are going to be engaged there for many, many, many years. Many men and women will lose their lives. We're doubling down. And we haven't debated this yet," Corker said.

Holbrooke said the proposed legislation already had attracted attention throughout the region.

"The only beneficiary of a delay in this bill is the enemies of our nation, the people who are trying to have the next 9/11," Holbrooke said.

And one Democratic senator, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, said he had reservations about sending more long-term aid to Pakistan.

"You're asking us to vote for a whole new set of money without knowing whether there are going to be benchmarks, without knowing whether we have a better system of accountability," Menendez said. "I personally can't continue down that road, as much as I think this is critical."

Menendez said he remained troubled by what had happened in the past, that Pakistan had received $12 billion in U.S. aid and had spent much of it building up its military against India on its eastern border instead of fighting against insurgents gaining strength on its west.

And Kerry warned that even the dramatic increase in aid has its limits.

"Even as we take bold steps, we should realize that our aid package to Pakistan is not a silver bullet… we should be realistic about what we can accomplish," Kerry said. "Ultimately the true decision makers are the people and leaders of Pakistan."

Kerry said the Obama administration, the U.S. Congress and the Pakistanis must cooperate.

"We're not looking for perfection, but we must work together … the stakes are just too high for anything else," he said.

Holbrooke also said that the U.S. is falling behind in delivering accurate information about what is happening in Pakistan.

"Concurrent with the insurgency is an information war. We are losing that war," Holbrooke told the committee.

"The Taliban have unrestricted, unchallenged access to the radio, which is the main means of communication in an area where literacy is around 10 percent for men and less than 5 percent for women… We don't have jamming; we don't try to override; we don't do counter-programming," Holbrooke said.

"We cannot win the war, however you define 'win,' if we cede the airways to people who present themselves as false messengers of a prophet, which is what they do. And we need to combat it."

Kerry also announced he would schedule a closed-door hearing to discuss security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, but he did not give a date.

Filed under: Bob Corker • Bob Menendez • Dick Lugar • John Kerry • Richard Holbrooke • State Department
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. P from CA

    Sounds like Obama is doing everything right at this point. We wouldn't be in this position if the Bush Administration had not started a war in Iraq.

    May 12, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  2. Mari( maybe one of my comments will be posted)

    What a mess, Pakistan and Afghanistan have become, another Vietnam. I say, President Obama, let's cut our losses, and stop the madness; secure the Pakistani nukes....... and please, sir, bring our Troops home.

    Surgical strikes against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, plus winning the hearts and minds of the Pakistanis and Afghans is the only sane solution. We can not afford to continue this war.

    May 12, 2009 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  3. Diane Dagenais Turbide

    Encouraging to see that we are not waiting even if we haven't debated this yet completely because people with anti american sentiments do not debate about it!

    May 12, 2009 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  4. Ryan

    why are we giving money to Pakistan when we don't even have the $$$$? Sadly, there is so much poverty in the USA it seems like since we dont have commercials displaying this poverty so it seems nobody knows it is happening HERE IN THE USA! I may be selfish but this is wrong in my eyes. SICK AND WRONG! I think we should be for our ppl Help each other ..not other countries.

    May 12, 2009 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |