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Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Says Aid Crucial to Counterterrorism Effort

BY Larisa Epatko  October 7, 2009 at 6:05 PM EDT

Taliban in Pakistan. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Wednesday that a U.S. aid bill that would provide $1.5 billion per year for five years to Pakistan was critical to the country’s efforts to fight terrorism.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., would triple nonmilitary aid to the country. Congress approved the measure last week and has sent it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Qureshi’s comments came the same day as Pakistan’s army expressed “serious concern” about the legislation.

Pakistan’s army chief met his top commanders at army headquarters in Rawalpindi and reiterated that Pakistan was a sovereign state and had the right to respond to threats in accordance with its interests, the military said, reported Reuters.

The bill says the U.S. military aid will cease if Pakistan does not help fight “terrorists,” including Taliban and al-Qaida members holed up along the Afghan border.

Pakistan appears to be gearing up for a major offensive against a Taliban stronghold in South Waziristan. Analysts say about 10,000 well-armed militants, including foreign fighters, have hunkered down in the region, reported the Associated Press.

The military is launching the strikes in response to a Taliban attack on two military bases, intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity, according to the AP.

On Monday, Taliban fighters bombed the U.N. World Food Program headquarters in Islamabad, killing five people and causing the United Nations to temporarily close its offices within the country. The Taliban said they bombed the agency because international aid work was not in “the interest of Muslims.”