Sunday, October 18, 2009

John Kerry Pitches Bill to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Oct 17: John Kerry, the chairman of US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and one of the authors of the much-debated $7.5 billion aid package, arrives here on Sunday to a warm reception by the government.

But he also faces ‘hot sessions’ with the opposition leaders and army officials over the issue. The government intends to praise his role in formulating the legislation and also getting it approved. He is going to be praised particularly for his efforts in helping Islamabad to secure an explanatory note that sought to allay the concerns of opposition leaders.

Senator Kerry will meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. He will also have an opportunity to interact with Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI Chief Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif — all of whom have criticised the package and appear to be dissatisfied also with the explanation on the intent of the law.

Senator Kerry will try to reassure his interlocutors that the US has no intention of undermining Pakistan’s interests. It will probably be the best chance for the military leadership to convey their reservations and fears about the law.

Sources say that Gen Kayani will present his point of view to Mr Kerry. They claim that the army has decided not to publicly confront the government or the US on the issue, although it is still uncomfortable with some controversial clauses and believes that the explanatory statement attached to the bill hardly addresses their concerns.

Senior army commanders are of the opinion that, notwithstanding the clarification on the intent of the law, the issues mentioned in those clauses will create problems at later stages.

Opposition parties have also rejected the explanatory statement.

PML-N leader Javed Hashmi told reporters after a speech by the foreign minister in parliament on Friday that his party had rejected the Kerry-Lugar bill.

The sources said the government would use the occasion to discuss with Mr Kerry the legislation on appropriations that would authorise disbursement and utilisation of the aid.

Although the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act and the attached explanatory note is expected to be the main focus of Mr Kerry’s deliberations during his two-day stay in Islamabad, diplomatic sources said the government of Pakistan would also raise the issue of Gen McChrystal’s report on Afghanistan, which called for a change in the strategy of coalition forces and provision of about 40,000 more troops.

Islamabad is averse to increase in foreign troops in Afghanistan and says it will have a destabilising effect on Pakistan.

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