Pakistan cutting visa backlog hindering US aid


WASHINGTON: Islamabad has cut by more than half a visa backlog affecting US officials and contractors needed to run American aid programmes aimed at combating extremism in Pakistan, a State Department official said on Tuesday.

The United States and Pakistan were developing a “more cooperative, constructive relationship” in the first year of a $7.5 billion, five-year civilian aid plan for Pakistan passed recently by Congress, said the official, Dan Feldman.

“But it’s going to take time,” Feldman, the deputy special US representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a House of Representatives subcommittee.

US officials complained in December about hundreds of Pakistani visa delays, saying this could hamper aid intended to stabilise the Islamabad government and help Pakistan’s people. The visa backlog delayed the arrival of US auditors, accountants and inspectors to implement the civilian aid programme. “I think there was a backlog of 500 visas in January. It’s down to less than 200 at this point,” Feldman told the subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, part of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel.

Although the US is Pakistan’s biggest aid donor and is now launching the five-year-plan of $1.5 billion in non-military aid a year, there is suspicion on both sides, and analysts speak of a “trust deficit”. “I want to make clear to the government of Pakistan that US civilian assistance comes as a package: funding, programming and oversight,” said Representative John Tierney, chairman of the subcommittee.


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