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    South Asia
     Oct 14, 2009
Kerry-Lugar bill a Catch-22 for Pakistan
By Zahid U Kramet

LAHORE - If, as advised by Bernd Debusmann in his Reuters column "Catch-22 and the long war in Afghanistan", the United States is in a quandary on the question a troop surge or a draw-down in Afghanistan, so too is Pakistan as it readies to launch its largest ever offensive against the Taliban on its side of the border in South Waziristan.

Debusmann's article describes Washington's dilemma as a Catch-22 situation in which, "You need to defeat the Taliban to build a state, and you need to build a state to defeat the Taliban." Pakistan ponders, as Debusmann puts it, "Does war better serve to bring about peace, or will peace better serve to bring an end to war."

Beginning with US President Barack Obama's September pledge of economic assistance to Pakistan of $2.3 billion for the year 2008-2009 and a similar amount for fiscal 2009-2010, as both

  
military and non-military aid, the US has since moved on to tripling non-military aid by way of the Kerry-Lugar bill - drafted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John F Kerry and ranking Republican Richard Lugar - which authorizes a grant of $1.5 billion annually over the next five years.

The problem is that the conditions attached have rubbed Pakistan the wrong way and produced negative reactions, particularly in the print media, where some of the country's leading columnists berate the bill on the "sovereignty" factor. As do legislators sitting on the opposition benches and political figures outside, for the same reason.

Of the columnists, the influential Ayaz Amir, who is also an opposition legislator, takes the "conditionalities" to the bill as grossly demeaning. In his weekly The News feature under "Kerry-Lugar: bill or document of surrender", he opines, "A convicted rapist out on parole would be required to give fewer assurances of good conduct."

Fellow columnist, but one of a conspicuous Islamic bent, Dr Muzaffar Iqbal, writing in the same daily on the same day under the heading "Turning Pakistan into a client state", sees Pakistan reduced to insignificant status with the acceptance of the aid bill, and the humiliation of Pakistan as it emerges as an American "satellite ... puppet ... neo-colony".

However, it is this daily's third regular Friday contributor, former senator Shafqat Mahmood, who hits the nail squarely on the head. In an article titled "Are perceptions of instability real?", he contends that there is an "ideological difference within the power establishment regarding relations with the United States and India", and that "the sniping on the Kerry-Lugar bill" is "an example of this".

The potent part of "power establishment" to which Mahmood refers is Pakistan's military bureaucracy, which has directly or indirectly ruled the country for most of its 62 years of existence. It can neither be expected to easily relinquish voice in national affairs, nor ever find true faith in the democratic dispensation of the past, the author infers.

With the fires of emotion then fanned on the "sovereignty question" also falling on deaf ears, it would be such rational reckonings as those posted in the same paper by veteran columnist Mir Jamilur Rehman who reminds, "Sovereignty denotes that the country is free and independent ... However, a country which is submerged up to its neck in debt ... cannot be 100% sovereign. Nor can it dictate terms entirely to its own liking."

This is a view shared by the incumbent Pakistan People's Party government, with Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira pointing to the precarious economic position Pakistan is in. But Kaira lays out battle lines when he draws attention to two of the bill's stipulations: one, that the military budget must be merged with the national budget, and two, that there should be no more military intervention in political and judicial matters.

Constitutionally valid, these qualifying clauses depend on the depth of the US resolve to sponsor democracy. For the moment, it seems the US stands committed to pursuing the democratic path, with the Obama administration stipulating, "It's either the Kerry-Lugar civilian aid, or no aid for the military."

But, here's Catch-22 again: whether to align with the powerful military to combat the militancy or take the principled stand in support of a weak democracy?

The latter option is a long shot. The military is too well entrenched. This was amply demonstrated at the conclusion of the Pakistan Corps Commanders meeting, when the Inter Service Public Relations office issued notice that the armed forces had serious reservations on the conditions laid down in the Kerry-Lugar legislation, which they saw as an offensive piece of legislation directed against Pakistan's armed forces.

This message was reportedly conveyed in strong terms to the commander of the US forces, General Stanley McChrystal, when he met Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, a day earlier at Pakistan's military headquarters. But stronger still, was the official communique which read, "The terms set in the Kerry-Lugar bill on the national security interests of Pakistan are insulting and are unacceptable in their present form."

However, as much as the military might protest the bill's conditions as interference in Pakistan's internal affairs, it is well aware that the country's economy is in dire need of a boost, and has thus given no indication of rejecting it outright. Instead, it has bounced the ball back into the civilian court, admitting that the final verdict must come from parliament, where pertinently, a significant number of legislators subscribe to the military's world view.

Where it goes from here is anybody's guess. With the war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration's first focus, and the need for Pakistan's military to stand in support, the chances of it being sidelined are remote. And, while it may be generally acknowledged in civilian circles that the army has too often overstepped its mandate, the fact remains that few, if any, do not recognize it as Pakistan's sheet anchor. The language in the Kerry-Lugar legislation denies that.

As things come to a head with the launch of the military operations in South Waziristan looming, Pakistan's National Assembly has gone into a huddle to debate the best course of action. The press preamble suggests it could boil down to debate for debate's sake, but there are some signs that the opposition will avail the opportunity to press for mid-term elections, which could conceivably bring a new and soured face to US-Pakistan relations.

To obviate this, Obama would need to remove the offending clauses of the legislation (acknowledged by US ambassador Anne Patterson as badly drafted) and sign on the dotted line of a revised bill reported to be lying on his table, without further delay. And then present the bill as a "take it or leave it" option. The chances are that Pakistan will take it, irrespective of the outcome of the parliamentary debate in motion.

Zahid U Kramet, a Lahore-based political analyst specializing in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, is the founder of the research and analysis website the Asia Despatch.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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