ISLAMABAD, Oct 6: The Kerry-Lugar bill is expected to consume a fair share of the corps commanders’ time when they meet in Rawalpindi on Wednesday.
There are indications that the US aid legislation is likely to find little support at the General Headquarters and may ultimately sour relations between the armed forces and the government, which favours the bill and claims it as a major foreign policy success. According to sources, the bill appears unpalatable, not just because of its feared impact upon the nation’s sovereignty, but primarily because it imposes strong checks on the country’s security matrix.
The most contentious parts of the otherwise pro-democracy document that are viewed as highly intrusive by certain circles are three certifications that the US secretary of state is required to provide to congressional committees for continuing security assistance and the format of monitoring reports.
The certifications include confirmation that the government continues to cooperate in investigating nuclear proliferators; is making sustained efforts against terrorists, including blocking support by elements within the military and intelligence network for terrorists, taking action against terrorist bases and acting on intelligence about high-value targets provided to it; and that the security forces are not subverting the political and judicial processes.
Almost all these aspects are covered in the format prescribed for the assessment reports, but an additional stipulation that has sent alarm bells ringing in the military establishment concerns an assessment of how effective a control the government has on the military, including oversight and approval of defence budgets, chain of command, promotions of senior commanders and civilian involvement in strategic planning.
Apart from these, there are hardly any other conditions for the development and economic assistance which forms the core of the bill. Its stated objectives are supporting democratic institutions; assisting efforts for expanding the rule of law and promotion of human rights; aiding economic freedom and development; investing in people, particularly women and children; and strengthening US public diplomacy.
Senior military officials confirmed that they were concerned about certain elements of the bill and saw it as interference in the country’s internal affairs.
“Obviously the Kerry-Lugar bill is related to security and would be examined at the corps commanders’ conference,” an official said.
Analysts believe that the apprehensions in the military have played a role in setting the agenda for a public debate on the issue in spite of the fact that the bill supports democracy. PML-Q secretary general Mushahid Hussain, like many other politicians opposing the legislation, centres his criticism on US double-standards, threats to Pakistan’s sovereignty and security, its destabilising effects and demeaning the country’s dignity. But he makes a valid point that differences over aid may create a rift between the civilian and military leadership as emboldened political leaders would try to gain influence over the monitoring and control of the armed forces’ professional matters.
The US Embassy’s Counsellor for Political Affairs, Bryan D. Hunt, told Dawn that the rationale behind the conditions was that the Congress felt very strongly that the US should be dealing with civilian governments.
“Pakistan also agrees that we should be dealing with civilians, and not the military.”
However, he regretted that this shared agreement on promoting democracy was getting lost in the ‘nationalist debate’ that had followed the approval of the bill by the Congress.
Mr Hunt described much of the criticism as “unfortunate and short-sighted”.
But more importantly, politicians wrangling over the military-related conditions have lost sight of a caveat that follows the certification clause: “The secretary of state, under direction of the president, may waive the limitations… if the secretary of state determines that it is important to national security interests of the United States.”
Seen against a history of US support for military-led removal of civilian governments, there is every likelihood that Washington, in case of any military intervention, may find an excuse for dumping politicians because of its ‘national interests’. This waiver clause would be handy in such an eventuality.