WASHINGTON - As Pakistan's National Assembly debated the so-called Kerry-Lugar aid bill, US leaders, reacting to widespread criticism that some conditions attached to it are a humiliating violation of sovereignty, said the characterisations were inaccurate and that the measure was aimed at helping Pakistani people.
"There is no conditionality, whatsoever, in this legislation with respect to the civilian assistance and the economic assistance that is provided ----"I want to emphasise there are no conditions on Pakistan attached to the $ 7.
5 billion in non-military aid," John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told reporters.
Standing next to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and and co-sponosor of the bill Senator Richard Lugar, Kerry said said the "purpose of the reconciled version of the legislation - which is exactly the same as the original Kerry-Lugar bill - is to transform the relationship between Pakistan and the United States into a deeper, broader, long-term strategic engagement" with the people of Pakistan.
However, he stated, "there are strict measures of financial accountability on Congress that we as representatives of the American people are required to place.
That is simply to make sure that the money is spent in a way that the American people want it to be spent.
" Besides, he noted, the "conditions on military aid do not require anything of Pakistan that is not already in the stated policy of the government and opposition parties of Pakistan that is already agreed upon.
" "There is absolutely nothing in this bill related to private security firms or drone attacks or host of other issues that have been tangled together---- (there is) nothing in this bill that impinges on Pakistani sovereignty.
" Earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States has no intention of interfering in Pakistan's internal affairs through the aid programme, as some critics have suggested.
"Those who have questions or doubts should read the legislation, which is very clear in its intent.
There has rarely been such a multiyear commitment by the United States, by both, the Legislative and Executive Branch, on behalf of a country with whom we feel such a bond of partnership and cooperation," she stressed.
Ms Clinton, who was speaking after talks with the Pakistani foreign minister, regretted "that some people do not understand" the legislation.
"But I am sure that with the help of the Pakistani Press represented here we can reinforce the minister's words that this is a sincere effort put forth by our Congress with the full support of President Barack Obama and myself to assist the people of Pakistan.
" Continuing, the top US diplomat noted, "We have many very successful Pakistani Americans, many of whom are dear and close friends of mine.
They have come to our country and been very successful.
We believe that people can stay in Pakistan and be very successful.
And this government that the minister represents is committed to that path of development and democracy, and we are going to support this mission.
" Ms Clinton said she is looking forward to continuing conversations with Pakistani leaders during her upcoming visit to Pakistan.
"My visit will come at a time when our two countries are deepening our cooperation and partnership.
The Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation that was passed by Congress last week unanimously is a historic chapter in our relations.
What this bill does is to strengthen the bonds of friendship and cooperation between the American people and the people of Pakistan.
It will help build civilian institutions, healthcare, education systems, infrastructure, and other important priorities of the government and people of Pakistan.
" She said the two sides have been working together in an integrated and unified effort that extends beyond the governments to include cooperation with civil society, the private sector, and with the very vibrant Pakistani-American community here in the United States.
Under the $ 7.
5 billion package, $ 1.
5 billion will be spent annually on economic progress, schools, health, infrastructure etc, areas that directly benefit the Pakistani people.
Senator Richard Lugar, the Ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, also underlined the long-term commitment that the bill represents for Pakistan.
In his remarks, Qureshi thanked the two top senator for spearheading economic assistance efforts for Pakistan.
He said the legislation is "free of conditionalities" and stressed that "there is no question of US micromanagement of Pakistan or "compromising of Pakistan's sovereignty.
" "The beauty of this commitment is that this is for the people of Pakistan--- to alleviate poverty, to strengthen demcoracy and the beauty of this legislation is that there was not a single dissenting vote, it was unanimously carried.
".
The United States needs to reassure Pakistan and Afghanistan on its "long-term vision" for the entire region, Qureshi has said.
He said mistakes were made in the past and lessons must be learnt.
"The people of the region have to be reassured that the United States has a long-term vision, not just for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the entire region," the foreign minister said.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 08-Oct-2009 here.