WASHINGTON (CN) – Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, appeared before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Tuesday to promote legislation that would provide more aid to Pakistan at a time of crisis in that nation. In response, Representative Ron Paul, a Texas Republican, said, “More nation building, more policing of the world, more involvement, I don’t see any end to it.”
Committee Chair Howard Berman, a California Democrat, answered, “Pakistan is at a tipping point, and we need to do everything we can so that it goes the right way.”
The legislation promoted by Holbrooke would establish a permanent fund for non-military assistance to Pakistan and would dramatically increase funding for Pakistani military equipment, education and police. But the request met resistance from both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.
Virginia Democrat Gerald Connolly asked whether Pakistani President Asif Zardari would ever have enough resources to fight the insurgents, given the $12 billion the United States has contributed over the past seven years to boost the Pakistani military.
Holbrooke answered that Pakistan used a large portion of those original funds to build up a military force against India. Pakistan still has more troops on its border with India than on its border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan did not buy equipment with insurgents in mind, Holbrooke added. The nation’s military bought planes instead of helicopters, for example, and neglected to buy night-vision goggles.
Representative Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat, compared Pakistan to a man who does not recognize the dangers around him. “Pakistan’s pants are on fire, but they are convinced that the Islamist flame will burn itself out,” he said. “They don’t recognize the risk that the country is in.”
A number of representatives questioned the effectiveness of aid to Pakistan. When the fight against insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan was compared to Vietnam, Holbrooke replied that the core difference between the two wars is that “the Vietcong never posed a direct threat to the American homeland.”
In the context of last year’s attack on Mumbai and the assassination of Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, Holbrooke stated: “We are talking today about an issue that is of direct importance to our national security.”
Last week, the Taliban fought its way to within 60 miles of Islamabad, the capital of the nuclear-armed country, Holbrooke pointed out. The Pakistani military has since pushed it back to somewhere between 60 to 100 miles from the capital.
“There is not a very big difference between 60 and 100 miles,” Holbrooke said. “What’s important is who has momentum.” He stressed the passage of the proposed legislation, called the Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement Act, as a way of giving the government that momentum.
Commenting on Holbrooke’s relentless advocacy, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, said, “We certainly understand that you endorse that bill. You don’t have to plug it in every answer. We get it.”
Committee members were also concerned about the possibility of a military takeover in Pakistan.
Holbrooke noted that Pakistan has been under military rule for half the time since its independence.
But he added that many in the United States have overreacted to the current situation in Pakistan. We should, he said, “dispel the pants-on-fire syndrome. It is not a failed state. It is a state under extreme stress.”
The hearings are being held as Pakistan’s President Zardari arrived in Washington on Tuesday to hold trilateral talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Obama.