The bill of financial assistance for Pakistan presented in the US congress by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar has fueled a heated debate in Pakistani media, parliament and political parties. Newspaper columnists, television anchor persons and opposition political leaders are blasting the bill for, what they call it “the controversial conditions that embarrasses Pakistan’s sovereignty and security”.
Pakistan Army in its public statement after a Corps Commanders meeting announced strong concerns over the bill and “its impacts on the national security of Pakistan”. The military statement said “army has strong concerns over this bill and the parliament representing the people of Pakistan can decide on this issue and help the Government to prepare a national reaction to the bill”. The Chief of Pakistan Army, General Ashfaq Kiyani in a meeting with General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan has expressed his concerns over the conditions of the bill.
On the other hand, the Government of Pakistan People’s Party—that has a history of rift with military rulers—under President Asif Zardari has been defending the bill in media and parliament. The Information Minister after the military reaction said “all those opposing the bill should read it”.
The military statement on the US aid legalization was public rather than sending message to the Government through a proper channel. It shows that the army high commands are intensely unhappy with the bill.
The conditions of Kerry-Lugar Bill—The Enhancement Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009—that has raised the temperature of anti-Americanism in Pakistani media and opposition political circles are;
There is no condition on the development aid to Pakistan through this bill, but for military the Bill asks the Secretary of State to certify to the Congress that;
Pakistan is continuing its cooperation with the US and its efforts to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons-related materials, such as proving relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks.
Pakistan is trying to eliminate the extremists and control on the elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agencies, which are suspected of rendering support to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and such groups as the Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammed.
Pakistan is destroying the terrorists’ centers in its cities of Quetta and Muridke near Lahore which are serving as bases for terrorist operations.
Pakistan army is not trying to interfere in the political and judicial process of the country.
Other than these, the bill also asks Secretary of State to report about how much control is exercised by the government over all military matters, including its budget, chain of command, promotion process and involvement in civilian affairs.
Abovementioned are the conditions most criticized by media and opposition political circles in Pakistan. There are speculations about the countdown of President Zardari’s government following the strong opposition of army to the Kerry-Lugar bill. In the 60 years of Pakistan’s history, in which military has ruled for more than 25 years, whenever there has been any serious rift between the military decision makers and civilian government, the latter’s departure countdown has been started from that day. A similar fear is being expressed for the near future of President Zardari’s government.
The opposition from political parties is more political than rational. But the military opposition for the Kerry-Lugar bill is mostly due to the assessment and control on army promotion, its budget and as the bill says, “Elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agencies, which are suspected of rendering support to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and such groups as the Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammed.” They consider it against the national security and sovereignty of Pakistan. It’s obvious that military which has ruled Pakistan more than about half its history would react to such words like “involvement in civilian affairs, or promotion and budget”.
Opposition political parties including Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N, the right wing extreme religious parties like Jamat e Islami and Tehrik e Insaaf—the non-beard extremists—are all aimed at midterm elections. Kerry-Lugar bill is the most suitable weapon for them against the government of President Zardari. The two other major political parties of Pakistan, allied with PPP in coalition are Mutahida Qawmi Movement and Awami National Party, who have kept mum on Kerry-Lugar so far. According to the joint Accord of Democracy between PPP and PML-N, both the parties had promised the people of Pakistan to avoid military involvement in the political affairs of the country, but now that the army in a public statement is asking the Government about army’s concerns, the political parties have kept mum. Mr. Nawaz Sharif, chief of PML-N is out of the country, while his brother, the Governor of Punjab province Shehbaz Sharif, and PML-N leader in Parliament Nisar Ali Khan have met army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani secretly. Such meetings make the Zardari-countdown more speculated
After these concerns, an “explanotry” document has been attached to the Bill, now signed by President Obama. Apparently, the issue seems to be settled down. But the rift between military decision makers and civilian government is not ended. It takes Pakistan into a deeper political chaos, when security is already worst across the country.