President Obama's Pakistan policy was in disarray yesterday after Islamabad
raised objections to the stringent terms attached to his new $7.5 billion
Officials of the two countries were locked in last-minute negotiations on how
to salvage the Kerry-Lugar Bill, which triples US civilian aid to Pakistan.
It seeks to broaden the campaign against Islamic militancy by fighting
poverty in regions along the Afghan border and tries to ensure that military
aid is not misspent. Military chiefs, the political opposition and even
members of the ruling coalition have protested over conditions laid down in
the Bill that they say constitute a humiliating violation of Pakistani
Mr Obama has until Friday to sign the Bill, which was passed by Congress on
September 30 and presented to him on October 5. Under the US Constitution,
it becomes law automatically if he does not sign or veto it within ten days.
But the Pakistani parliament is debating a resolution opposing some aspects
of the Bill, which, although non-binding, would make it politically
difficult for President Zardari to accept the US aid.
Even Mr Zardari, who initially championed the package, has been forced to join
the protests and send his Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, to
Washington to convey the widespread anger across Pakistan.
Mr Qureshi began a series of meetings with US officials and legislators
yesterday to try to find a compromise that would pacify the Bill's critics
without killing the entire aid package. "We are not raising objections on
the entire Bill, but on some of the clauses which hurt our national
sentiments," a senior Pakistani Foreign Ministry official told The
He said that Mr Qureshi would meet Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for
Pakistan and Afghanistan, James Jones, the National Security Adviser, and
Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State. He would also meet Senators John
Kerry and Richard Lugar, who sponsored the Bill.
Mr Qureshi would raise concerns about four conditions that have caused most
offence, the Pakistani official said. They oblige the US Government to
ensure that the Pakistani Army is under the civilian Government's control,
is not interfering in domestic politics, but is tackling Islamic militants
and is not shielding Pakistanis involved in nuclear proliferation. "We just
want that some measures are taken to alleviate the concerns of the
military," the official said.
The Pakistani military took the unusual step last week of issuing a statement
expressing its concern about the Bill, just before the parliamentary debate.
It was most offended by the explicit condition that Pakistani civilian
leaders should have oversight of military appointments.
"I hope the whole thing is scrapped," one senior military officer told The
Times. "At the very least we want it amended."
US officials say that they are surprised by the level of opposition in
Pakistan, and admit that the wording of the Bill was mistaken.
They also warn that amending the Bill, or drafting a new one, could take
months, if not years, at a time when Pakistan is desperately short of funds.
They are now discussing a compromise under which Mr Obama makes a public
statement addressing Pakistan's concerns as he signs the Bill into law.
Another option is for Congress to address Pakistan's concerns in the Bill's
official "legislative history".
Even if such a compromise is found, there is still a raging dispute over
whether the funds should be spent through Pakistani or international
non-governmental organisations. Mr Holbrooke and Pakistani leaders want
USAid, America's international aid agency, to distribute more money through
Pakistani NGOs, as called for in the Bill.
But C. Stuart Callison, a senior USAid economist, accused Mr Holbrooke in a
leaked memo to the State Department of micromanaging the aid by personally
approving every funding decision.
"This approval process has been difficult, time-consuming and extremely
frustrating for an already overburdened mission staff and the disapprovals
already received are shockingly counterproductive to priority
counter-insurgency and economic development objectives," he wrote.
"Based on past experience in Pakistan, very few Pakistani firms and NGOs can
currently satisfy the stringent financial management audit requirements for
USAid project funding."
• An estimated $1.8 billion in US military aid went to Pakistan in 2008, a
report by Harvard University said - but corruption in the Pakistani
Government meant that only $300 million reached the army
• Other reports in 2008 claimed that up to 70 per cent of US military
aid to Pakistan had been misspent
• The US State Department said terror attacks more than doubled in
Pakistan from 2007 to 2008, to about 1,800