The use of terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence came in for a lambasting at the House of Representatives during a hearing yesterday on foreign policy priorities and needs amidst economic challenges in South Asia.

In a well-attended hearing at the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill, members of Congress pressed top Obama administration officials on the core question of why, after $20 billion had been pumped into Pakistan over the last decade and over a billion dollars had been supplied under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, anti-American sentiment in Pakistan was still so strong.

Putting it bluntly, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Chabot, Republican of Ohio, said, “The question is basically we spent all this money and they still hate us. What should we do about that?”

Congressman Chabot also added that despite efforts “The fact remains that Pakistani and U.S. strategic interests diverge on certain issues – especially those concerning Islamist terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the Pakistani ISI continues to view as a strategic asset vis-a-vis India.”

Mr. Chabot also said that “years of Pakistani mistrust of the U.S. has resulted in a relationship in which cooperation on certain issues is often accompanied by obstruction on others,” adding that the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 was supposed to convey to Pakistan that the U.S. interest is in a strategic partnership and not just a transactional relationship.

Congressman Gary Ackerman, Democrat of New York, said in a similar vein that the U.S. itself had “failed India” in that it had not used its diplomatic leadership and agenda-setting capability to “focus global attention to the threat to India from Pakistan-based terrorists, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, that continue to raise money from all over the world.”

Contrarily Mr. Ackerman said that the U.S.’ relations with India were still too narrow and shallow, and “Some of the responsibility is ours, some is theirs.” In particular Congressman Ackerman noted that on the economic side “There is still too much opportunity being lost to outdated rules, regulations and laws limiting the attractiveness and accessibility of India as a destination for business and investment.”

Responding to some of the questions from the panel Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, highlighted the State Department’s optimism regarding the recent resumption of talks between India and Pakistan and the demonstration of good will by both sides.

He had positive words especially for the fact that “Both countries made important strides during the home secretary talks last week by agreeing to set up a hotline between their two governments to share information about the threats of terrorism and to share and facilitate the work of commissions investigating terrorist attacks.”

Mr. Blake also underscored the growing importance of trade and investment in boosting the bilateral relationship, explaining that during President Barack Obama’s visit to India last November, trade deals in excess of $14.9 billion in total value were announced, “with $9.5 billion in U.S. export content supporting almost 54,000 jobs.”

Contrary to some recent statements emanating from Congress regarding U.S. jobs lost to outsourcing by Indian companies, Mr. Blake noted that India was also “among the fastest-growing sources of investment into the U.S.” and in the last decade, investment capital coming from India to the U.S. grew at an annualised rate of 53 per cent, touching $4.4 billion in 2009.

“The strategic partnership with India will remain among our top foreign policy priorities,” Mr. Blake said.

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