Senator Kerry hopes aid to ease Pakistan hostility
By Shaun Tandon
WASHINGTON — Senator John Kerry voiced hope Thursday that a giant US aid package would ease widespread anti-Americanism in Pakistan as a poll showed a vast majority in the Islamic nation resented the US military.
Congress on Wednesday gave the final go-ahead to a five-year, 7.5 billion dollar package to build schools, roads and democratic institutions in the frontline nation in the US-led campaign against Islamic extremism.
Kerry, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-author of the act, said the aid plan marked a turning point by responding to the needs of Pakistan’s people rather than just the government.
“It’s no secret that the relationship between our countries has suffered its share of strains. Many Pakistanis believe that the United States has exploited them for strategic goals,” Kerry said at a congressional hearing.
“The reason we did this is specifically to try to build a relationship with the people to show that what we want is a relationship that meets their interests and needs,” Kerry said.
“This is a landmark change in the relationship,” he said.
But he conceded that the package was “not a panacea” and said that more investment and policy changes were needed to put US-Pakistani relations on track.
“In the end, only Pakistanis will define the future of that relationship,” Kerry said.
A survey released Thursday by the International Republican Institute, a non-profit group promoting democracy whose board is headed by Senator John McCain, found that Pakistanis remained sharply critical of US military efforts.
Eighty percent of Pakistanis disagreed with cooperation with the United States on the “war on terror,” a figure that shot up 19 points since March, the survey said.
At the same time, 86 percent agreed that Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants posed a problem for Pakistan and more than two-thirds supported a recent Pakistani army offensive on extremists.
In one of the sharpest swings, the polls showed that Pakistanis were growing increasingly pessimistic about their own economic futures.
Some 58 percent of Pakistanis expected their economic situations to worsen in the coming year, up from 36 percent in March, it said.
The institute said it surveyed 4,900 adults in person across Pakistan in July and August. It gave its findings a margin of error of 1.41 percent.
Kerry unsuccessfully ran in 2004 against President George W. Bush, who developed a close alliance with Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf to fight Afghanistan’s Taliban, an extremist force once backed by Islamabad.
Kerry, a close ally of President Barack Obama, said he was hopeful of a better relationship with Pakistan since President Asif Ali Zardari took over last year, restoring civilian rule.
Obama has also changed strategy by considering Afghanistan and Pakistan part of the same campaign as concerns grow about the presence of extremists in Pakistan’s lawless border regions.
Obama staunchly supported the aid package for Pakistan and is also considering sending more troops to Afghanistan in hopes of stepping up the fight against Islamic extremists.