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
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
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.