Pakistan’s Aid Waiver

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Congress granted the President the authority to exempt Pakistan from prohibitions on foreign aid to countries where the elected head of state has been deposed by military coup. The bill, subsequently renewed each year since, stipulates the conditions under which the power be invoked:

if the President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that such waiver —

(A) would facilitate the transition to democratic rule in Pakistan; and

(B) is important to United States efforts to respond to, deter, or prevent acts of international terrorism.

Yesterday, President Bush once again invoked the authority to waive the relevant restrictions, thereby clearing the way for Pakistan to receive this year’s share of financial and military assistance.

In all fairness, Pakistan does more closely resemble a democracy today than it did seven years ago. But I think it’s fair to say that to whatever degree that’s true, it’s more in spite of the generous loopholes provided for in this law than it is because of them. Certainly the generous military aid we’ve furnished over the past seven years did nothing to prevent al-Qaida and the Taliban from setting up shop on the Pakistan side of the border.

What’s more, it was the Democratic Congress that finally added some teeth to last year’s amended version of the bill, including this:

It is the sense of Congress that determinations to provide extensions of waivers of foreign assistance prohibitions with respect to Pakistan. . .should be informed by the pace of democratic reform, extension of the rule of law, and the conduct of the parliamentary elections currently scheduled for 2007 in Pakistan.

This is an example of the way that the tensions in American domestic politics can actually serve our interests abroad. It’s also an underused element of foreign policy in an era when the imperial executive trumps checks and balances. Congress’ ability to place limits on the president’s conduct of foreign policy is predominantly perceived as demeaning to presidential prestige, when it could be used to provide necessary carrots and sticks to influence recalcitrant bargaining partners as needed.

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