With the desire to tighten governmental purse strings high on Washington's agenda, a number of lawmakers have called in recent months for reducing the United States' massive foreign aid payments.
And then there was the Osama bin Laden raid on May 2, when U.S. forces plucked the top terrorist out from under the nose of the Pakistani military. All the more cause, some on Capitol Hill are saying, to consider cutting off aid to Pakistan -- perhaps entirely.
On May 10, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican, California) introduced the "Defund United States Assistance to Pakistan Act of 2011" in the House of Representatives, which would "prohibit assistance to Pakistan under any provision of the law." It's a justified measure, a press release from Rohrabacher's office says, because "Pakistan's leadership concealed, protected, and enabled the Al-Qaeda leader for many years," not to mention possibly transferring pieces of the cutting edge U.S. helicopter that crashed in the bin Laden raid to China.
Rohrabacher then took to the airwaves of the conservative Fox News channel to defend his bill.
"By ignoring all of the things [Pakistan] is doing, which dramatically negatively impact on our security, we've been acting like fools," Rohrabacher said. "We've been giving money to people who are doing things that put us in jeopardy. We should quit acting like fools and they'll quit treating us like fools."
Days earlier, little-known Republican Congressman Ted Poe (Texas) introduced a similar bill, the "Pakistan Foreign Aid Accountability Act," which would "require the State Department to certify to Congress that Pakistan was not providing a sanctuary for the world's most wanted terrorist."
Josh Rogin, who blogs for ForeignPolicy.com, spoke to several congressional aides who said the bill didn't pass the sniff test.
But that didn't stop Poe from telling colleagues on the floor of the House of Representatives that "it's time we freeze the foreign aid to Pakistan until we get some answers about their knowledge of bin Laden's whereabouts. We cannot continue to give Pakistan money in the hopes they will be our friend and ally."
Other senators, however, have urged caution.
A surprisingly strong voice against scrapping aid to Islamabad is House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican, Florida), who told "The Washington Post" that doing so would jeopardize American security. Ros-Lehtinen has in the past called for cutting off aid to countries not cooperating with the United States.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) also says it is premature to discuss cutting off aid, instead advocating frank communication with Pakistan on the state of bilateral relations.
John Kerry (Democrat, Massachusetts), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a May 5 hearing on Pakistan, said lawmakers shouldn't let their frustration with Pakistan exacerbate Washington's dilemma.
"Going forward we have to act thoughtfully, and no matter what, we have to remember the big picture, the larger strategic interest, and the full nature of our relationship with Pakistan," Kerry warned. "We should not rush into a situation that in fact hurts our own interests."
The Rohrabacher and Poe bills won't likely have enough support to reach a vote by lawmakers. But if a slash in Pakistan aid is to be approved, it could come from the $7.5 billion in funding allocated by a bill that Kerry co-authored.
Passed by Congress in 2009, the "Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act," better known as the "Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill," provides increased aid to Pakistan contingent upon Islamabad demonstrating progress and commitment in its fight against terrorism.
The bill's other two authors, Representative Howard Berman (Democrat, California) and Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) have recently expressed doubts whether Pakistan is indeed being held accountable under the bill's provisions.
Fear that aid could diminish or dry up completely has prompted the Pakistani government to dispatch its team of Washington lobbyists from the firm Locke Lord to Capitol Hill, where they will argue that despite the bin Laden debacle, Islamabad has been a valuable partner in fighting terrorism. It's an argument that the White House has also made.
They've got their work cut out for them. In an e-mailed response to an RFE/RL request to interview members of the firm, a Locke Lord representative said, "As you can imagine, [they] are extremely busy with their clients now."
-- Richard Solash