Pakistan Says It Can Live Without U.S. Aid

But a top official says cutting aid will hurt relations

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 In comments that could rile Congress, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States today said that his country doesn't seek U.S. aid, but ending it would hurt U.S. relations with the Pakistani people.

"Pakistan does not want to remain dependent on American assistance. We are well beyond that point. A couple of billion of dollars in aid a year is not what we really seek. What we seek is a level playing field on trade," said Ambassador Husain Haqqani.

Speaking at a media breakfast sponsored by the Christan Science Monitor, he suggested that aid helps the United States more than Pakistan, especially economic and social aid. [Read about United States and Pakistan's tense relationship.]

Noting that many Pakistanis don't like the United States, he said that U.S. aid helps "win hearts and minds."

But while he repeatedly said Pakistan doesn't need U.S. aid, he warned that cutting it or putting conditions or restrictions on it would undermine U.S. efforts to win over Pakistanis. "I essentially tell lawmakers in the United States that, compared to what you are spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, your assistance to Pakistan is a relatively small amount. Whether that small amount gets you what you consider to be desirable results in the short term is not as important as the effect closing it down would have. Because by shutting it down you are sending people a message that you don't care," he said.

Since 2002, the U.S. has send Pakistan about $11 billion in military aid and another $6 billion in economic aid. Haqqani said that while the two nations are trying to reduce tensions, eliminating aid would only inflame hatred on both sides. [See a collection of political cartoons on the turmoil in the Middle East.]

"We just need right now to work together on reducing all potential elements of hostility. Why add another layer by threatening to or actually cutting off aid?" Still, he said the nation is "grateful" for it, though it's not necessary.

Foreign aid is regularly a hot issue in Congress, and this year several GOP presidential candidates have also suggested elminating aid to Pakistan, viewed as hostile to the U.S. war on terror by several of the White House hopefuls.

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