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US Senate passes USD 700 billion defence spending bill

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WASHINGTON (PTI): The US Senate has overwhelmingly approved the nearly USD 700 billion defence spending bill for 2018 which seeks to develop a strategy for Indo-US defence cooperation and adopts a tough approach on Pakistan's action against terror outfits like the Haqqani network and the LeT.

As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2018, the legislation was passed 89 to 8 votes with Senators also approving several India-centric amendments aimed at increasing the defence relationship between the two countries.

"Few partnerships in the 21st century carry more strategic significance than United States partnership with India, the world's largest democracy," powerful Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a former presidential candidate, said after the passage of NDAA on Monday.

Cruz said he believed that current bilateral cooperation and joint development needed to be more closely aligned with the shared interests of maritime domain awareness and anti- submarine warfare.

He secured an amendment that calls on the Department of Defense to reassess its approach to partnering with India and to appoint an individual to oversee this process.

Cruz cosponsored another amendment with Senator Mark Warner, Co-Chair of the Senate India Caucus, which asks the Pentagon to develop a strategy of defence cooperation between the US and India.

The House of Representatives has already passed NDAA 2018.

Given the differences between the two bills, NDAA-2018 would now be considered by a joint House and Senate Committee to make it identical one, which needs to be passed by the two chambers of the US Congress before it can be sent to US President Donald Trump for it to sign into law.

Passed nearly a month after President Donald Trump unveiled his Afghanistan and South Asia Policy, the bill adopts a tougher approach against Pakistan, when it comes to the fight against terrorism.

The NDAA approves USD 700 million in coalition support fund to Pakistan as a reimbursement to the services rendered by Islamabad towards America's fight against terrorism.

However, USD 350 million of this amount cannot be released unless the Defense Secretary certifies to the Congress that Pakistan has taken satisfactory steps against terrorist organisations like the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

According to the Senate version of the bill, the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) payment will be incumbent on Pakistan conducting "military operations that are contributing to significantly disrupting the safe havens, fundraising and recruiting efforts, and freedom of movement of the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan".

Pakistan must show "it has taken steps to demonstrate its commitment to prevent the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e- Taiba from using any Pakistan territory as a safe haven and for fundraising and recruiting efforts", it said.

Pakistan must show that is not using its military or any funds or equipment provided by the US to persecute minority groups seeking political or religious freedom, including the Balochi, Sindhi and Hazara ethnic groups and minority religious groups, including Christian, Hindu and Ahmadiyya Muslims, it said.

The bill also requires Pakistan to not provide military, financial or logistical support to specially designated global terrorists operating in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

The bill also expresses it sense that Shakil Afridi is an international hero and that the government of Pakistan should release him immediately from prison.

"The Government of Pakistan's imprisonment of Dr Afridi presents a serious and growing impediment to the United States' bilateral relations with Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan has levelled and allowed baseless charges against Dr Afridi in a politically motivated, spurious legal process," it said.

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