WASHINGTON US President Barack Obama on Thursday signed into law a bill that triples non-military aid to Pakistan to about $7.5 billion over the next five years, the White House said.
The US president signed the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, also known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, without fanfare before leaving on a trip to New Orleans.
The bill has come under fierce criticism in Pakistan, which dampened the US desire to showcase the bill as a major milestone towards establishing long-term partnership with Pakistan.
Although Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news briefing in Washington on Wednesday that Obama would also attach a signing statement to the new law, the White House said that the president did not and had no intention to do so.
A signing statement underscores the way the executive intends to implement a law, which may differ from the text of the law itself.
`This law is the tangible manifestation of broad support for Pakistan in the US, as evidenced by its bipartisan, bicameral, unanimous passage in Congress,` White House spokesman Robert Gates said.
The signing followed efforts by the Obama administration and US lawmakers to allay concerns in Pakistan over conditions linked to the aid package, while making clear the legislation would not be changed.
Gibbs said President Obama wanted to engage Pakistan on the basis of a strategic partnership `grounded in support for Pakistan`s democratic institutions and the Pakistani people`.
`This act formalises that partnership, based on a shared commitment to improving the living conditions of the people of Pakistan through sustainable economic development, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, and combating the extremism that threatens Pakistan and the United States,` he said.
The White House made no mention of the controversial clauses included in the act signed on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Qureshi expressed the hope that a furore at home over the aid package would ease after US lawmakers had given him written guarantees that it would not violate Pakistan`s sovereignty.
US Senator John Kerry and Congressman Howard Berman on Wednesday gave Qureshi a document stating that the plan did not impose any conditions on Pakistan or infringe on its sovereignty.
The lawmakers said a statement clarifying some points in the legislation would be entered into the congressional record. The bill itself will remain unchanged.
Qureshi called the explanatory statement `historic` and a step forward in bilateral relations. He said he would convey to the Pakistani parliament that the US aid bill was a sign of friendship and not a threat to the country`s sovereignty.
Qureshi visited Washington twice during the last two weeks. His last visit followed allegations in Pakistan that the US aid plan could interfere with the military and the civilian government.
Qureshi said the congressional explanatory statement had now been placed before the US Senate along with supporting letters from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
The foreign minister, who flew back to Islamabad on Wednesday evening, said the statement would be attached to the act and would have `the full force of law`.
He did not explain whether the Senate would hold a vote on the explanatory note or it would be approved by a committee.
Qureshi said the explanatory statement dealt particularly with the misgivings over national sovereignty and security.
During his two-day visit to Washington, Qureshi met Vice President Joseph Biden, National Security Adviser James Jones, architects of the bill on Capitol Hill, US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen and US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke.
`This act fully recognises and respects the independence of Pakistan as a sovereign nation. The purpose of this act is to forge a closer collaborative relationship between Pakistan and the United States, not to dictate the national policy or impinge on the sovereignty of Pakistan in any way,` said the foreign minister.
`Any interpretation of this act which suggests that the United States does not fully recognise and respect the sovereignty of Pakistan would be directly contrary to Congressional intent.`