U.S. to unveil large aid package to win the hearts of Pakistanis

ISLAMABAD — The U.S. will announce Monday hundreds of millions of dollars worth of civilian aid projects for Pakistan, American officials said, in an attempt to demonstrate that Washington has broadened its relationship with the country, away from just anti-terror cooperation to helping the people of Pakistan.

Hillary Clinton, on her way to a key international conference in Afghanistan, will unveil a raft of U.S.-funded development projects Monday. They will cover sectors including water supply, electricity production, agriculture and health, as the U.S. implements its pledge to triple civilian aid to key ally Pakistan. The previous administration of President George W. Bush had focused most aid on Pakistan's military, which then ruled the country, causing resentment in the country that felt it was being manipulated to further U.S. goals.

The Obama administration vowed to "transform" the nature of its relationship with Pakistan when it came into office, insisting that Pakistan was at least as important as Afghanistan. Up until now, Washington has not been able to provide concrete evidence of that change. The U.S. is seeking to counter virulent anti-Americanism in Pakistan by backing the current democratic government and reaching out to the population with money for tangible aid projects that are visible and serve basic needs.

"The (Obama) administration didn't feel good about what we inherited in Pakistan. We felt the relationship was much too much transactional," said a senior U.S. official in Islamabad, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official announcement was not yet made. "No country is more important to us than Pakistan ... This represents a sea-change in our approach."

The aid comes as a result of controversial and much-delayed U.S. legislation, known as the Kerry-Lugar Bill, which allocated $1.5 billion a year to Pakistan for the next five years. Although the legislation appeared to make the funding contingent on Pakistan cracking down on terrorist groups, those funds are now ready to be dispersed, Clinton will say.

"Eighteen months into this (Obama) presidency, we've identified the problems, got the money from Congress, and now you've got the plans together," said the U.S. official. "It's a very big deal."

Washington is concerned that nuclear-armed Pakistan could be further destabilized by its sinking economy, by crippling electricity shortages, and by spiraling terrorist violence. An Islamist insurgency based in the northwest is being fought by the Pakistani army and Pakistan's help is essential to a solution in neighboring Afghanistan.

The projects include work on dams, clean drinking water systems, health clinics and irrigation. Roughly half will be channeled through Islamabad and the rest through non-governmental organizations.

While boosting civilian aid, the Obama administration has not neglected the Pakistani military, with aid to the armed forces increased from some $1 billion a year under Bush to $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year under Obama.

Following a meeting with Clinton Sunday, Pakistan's President, Asif Zardari, said in a statement: "We are keen to meet the energy (shortage) challenge head on and pursue policies of public-private partnership to promote investment and production to create jobs and wean away the frustrated youth from resorting to extremism."

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent based in Islamabad.)


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