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By Meredith Buel
Islamabad
19 February 2008

An influential member of the U.S. Congress, Senator Joseph Biden, is proposing a massive increase in non-military financial aid to Pakistan.  Senator Biden made the proposal during a news conference in Islamabad and VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details.

US senators Joseph Biden, left, talks to Chuck Hagel during a press conference at a hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, 19 Feb 2008
US senators Joseph Biden, left, talks to Chuck Hagel during a press conference at a hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, 19 Feb 2008
Senator Biden, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says he believes Pakistan has taken an important step on the road to democracy with this week's parliamentary elections.

Senator Biden called the election, which resulted in a major defeat for parties supporting Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, credible and reflecting the will of the country's moderate majority.

Biden said the new government of Pakistan should enjoy what he called "a democracy dividend."

"I believe, I am speaking only for myself now, that we should be tripling our non-military assistance," he said.  "We should sustain that commitment for a 10-year period.  We should be focused on helping you build schools and roads and health care centers and dealing with the infrastructure of the entire country."

Currently the United States gives Pakistan $500 million in non-military aid per year.  So under Senator Biden's proposal that figure would jump to $1.5 billion.

This would be in addition to the billions of dollars in American aid given to Pakistan's army to fight al-Qaida and Taliban-linked militants on the country's border with Afghanistan.

Before the election, Senator Biden said the United States should cut military aid to Pakistan if the polls were rigged.

Senator Biden traveled to Pakistan to observe the election with two other members of the Senate, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf speaking on Pakistan Television and Radio in Islamabad, 27 Dec 2007 (picture provided by the Press Information Department)
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
The three met with President Musharraf and Senator Kerry described Mr. Musharraf's reaction to the election results.

"He made it clear to us that he looks forward to working with the other parties," he said.  "He expects the new prime minister and the new government to govern.  He said he would respect the power of that prime minister in the new government."

President Musharraf has been a key U.S. ally in the war on terror, but Senator Biden suggested it is time to broaden American foreign policy.

"This is an opportunity for us to move from a policy that has been focused on a personality to one based upon an entire people and a move to a genuine Pakistani policy," he added.

Senator Biden says it is time for Pakistani leaders to focus on the future, restore constitutional order, insure a free media and an independent judiciary.

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