US Senate approves sweeping Pakistan aid package US Senate approves sweeping Pakistan aid package by Staff Writers Washington (AFP) June 25, 2009 The US Senate on Wednesday approved a bill to triple civilian US aid to Pakistan, a bid to cement a long-term partnership and defeat Islamist fighters threatening the nuclear-armed ally's stability. Lawmakers unanimously approved the plan. The package provides 7.5 billion dollars in humanitarian and economic aid over five years, recommends that level for another five years, while tying US military aid to progress against extremists. "This legislation marks an important step toward sustained economic and political cooperation with Pakistan," said Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The House of Representatives passed its version of the legislation in mid-June, and the two chambers must now work out and approve a compromise bill before President Barack Obama can sign the measure into law. "Pakistan is facing a critical moment," said Democratic Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after lawmakers agreed to approve it without dissent. Kerry crafted the bill with Lugar. Supporters of the measure say they hope it will convince Pakistanis who are deeply skeptical of US support and goals that Washington stands with them against Islamists over the long haul and has their best interests at heart. "Today the Senate has made a clear bipartisan commitment to replace an atmosphere of mutual distrust and lack of accountability with a broad-based, durable commitment to Pakistan and its people," said Kerry. The measure separates civilian aid aimed at boosting education, democratic governance, and sustainable economic growth for Pakistan's 170 million people from military assistance, which would be approved on a year-to-year basis. It ties military aid to certification that Pakistan security forces are doing their utmost against Al-Qaeda and similar groups, and requires Pakistan to stop the Taliban from using Pakistan's territory as a base. But it does not materially interfere in the country's political or judicial processes. It also calls for benchmarks for measuring the effectiveness of US assistance at a time when many in the US Congress are openly skeptical of the effectiveness and desirability of boosting aid to Islamabad. It would also require Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in cooperation with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, to craft annual reports on Pakistani security forces. Clinton would also be directed to work up a comprehensive strategy with Gates and Blair for coping with violence along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. The Obama administration has chafed at setting conditions on economic aid to Islamabad, which the House of Representatives version does. Obama has made rooting out extremism from Afghanistan and Pakistan a major priority. US officials in the past have accused rogue elements in the Pakistani military and intelligence service of secretly abetting extremists. The US president, Vice President Joe Biden and Clinton all co-sponsored legislation nearly identical to the Senate version when they were senators. Pakistani troops are wrapping up an almost two-month-long operation against Taliban rebels in northwest Swat valley. They are preparing to launch a second front against feared Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud and his network along the rugged tribal belt. Worsening Taliban-linked attacks have killed almost 2,000 people in Pakistan since July 2007. Obama's national security adviser, James Jones, is slated to visit Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India to review implementation of US strategy in the region. Earlier Wednesday Pakistani officials said US missile strikes had killed dozens of people in a a tribal area controlled by Mehsud. Drone aircraft, which are only deployed by US forces in the region, hit Taliban positions on Tuesday then struck again as hundreds of people gathered for a funeral in Mehsud's northwest tribal stronghold of South Waziristan. "We have initial reports that are not confirmed but the casualties are somewhere between 20 to 30," military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP in Islamabad.