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U.S. plans to release $1.5 billion for Pakistan

First Published      Last Updated Oct 19 2013 07:13 pm

Washington • The United States plans to give more than $1.5 billion in assistance to Pakistan for programs that had been blocked because of tension between the two nations over events including the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, U.S. officials said Saturday.

The decision to release the money, expected to be discussed when President Barack Obama welcomes the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to the White House on Wednesday, was confirmed by the State Department and congressional officials.

The White House has set a warm tone for the Obama-Sharif session, officially stating that the meeting would highlight the "resilience of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship" and further cooperation on trade and economic development, regional stability and countering extremism.

For all the good will that the Obama administration is seeking to generate through this package, relations between the two countries are still dictated by tensions over the CIA-operated drone program. Sharif's government has repeatedly condemned American drone strikes that have occurred in the tribal belt since his administration began in June, despite assurances from American officials that the strikes were killing few civilians.

Another point of contention has been the future of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of American combat troops in 2014. American officials believe that Pakistan can play a key role in efforts to draw the Afghan Taliban into peace talks, yet remain suspicious of the Pakistani military's links to certain militant factions such as the Haaqani Network, which has carried out many attacks on Western and Afghan troops inside Afghanistan.

Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said the renewed aid was "part of a long process of restarting security assistance cooperation after implementation was slowed during the bilateral challenges of 2011 and 2012. "The relationship with Pakistan struck a low point in 2011, after a CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore, an errant American airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border, and the Navy SEAL team killed bin Laden in Abbottabad.

American military assistance had been frozen since the bin Laden killing, in May 2011.

At the peak of tension between the two nations, Pakistan blocked American and NATO supplies from crossing in and out of Afghanistan, causing them to pile up at the border and creating logistical difficulties for the shrinking war effort and the concurrent withdrawal of troops.

Relations have been gradually improving since then. Pakistan reopened the NATO supply routes in 2012, after the Obama administration apologized for the 2011 airstrike.

The official notifications from the State Department to Congress, required to release the funds, were sent during several months over the summer, long before the visit of Sharif was planned. The decision to release the money was first reported on Saturday by The Associated Press.

"U.S. security assistance continues to build the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism capabilities of Pakistan's security forces, which is critical to countering violence in the western border regions," Harf said in an email.

She added that civilian aid had "continued uninterrupted." Civilian aid, she said, had "delivered real results on the issues most important to Prime Minister Sharif and all Pakistanis: energy, education, and economic growth."

The United States provides about $2 billion in annual security aid, roughly half of which goes to reimburse Pakistan for conducting military operations to fight terrorism.