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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Powered by pride, Pakistan set to reject Kerry-Lugar Bill

Powered by pride, Pakistan set to reject Kerry-Lugar Bill
Tuesday, 06 October 2009 07:10

The Times
By Kamran Khan
ISLAMABAD: The government is gently moving in a direction where it may reject the Kerry-Lugar Bill in its present shape. The rejection will be accompanied by a request to the US Congress and the Obama administration for an understanding of Pakistan's sovereignty and its right to decide issues of national security and foreign policy, according to several senior Pakistani officials and an important federal cabinet minister. The sources spoke to this correspondent on condition of anonymity.
"I'll be very very surprised if Pakistan accepts the Kerry-Lugar Bill with its present formulations because the nation wouldn't allow a trade-off between sovereignty and US aid," said an important federal cabinet member, reflecting the prevailing sense in government circles on the issue.
Less than a week after the passage of the Kerry-Lugar Bill by the American Congress, the civil and military leadership in Pakistan is sharing strong concerns with opposition politicians, the media, intellectuals and clerics over certain provisions in the bill where the US government has sought to oversee the key components of Pakistan's foreign policy and national security. A public outrage was witnessed in the country as the content of the Kerry-Lugar Bill became public last week.
Renowned columnist and MNA Ayaz Amir wrote in his weekly column in The News: "This is less an assistance programme than a treaty of surrender." "Thank God, Kerry and Lugar did not think of getting the name of Pakistan changed!" wrote renowned columnist Anees Jillani in an op-ed article in Dawn.
Amid growing concerns across the country that an increasingly controversial Kerry-Lugar Bill has also prejudged Pakistan as a state allowing bases for terrorist operations in the tribal areas and cities, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered a hold-back of an official response from the government on the bill until it is fully examined by parliament and the country's military leadership, senior officials said.
As a result of this decision that will entail several actions over the next two weeks, these sources said, the premier also sent an urgent message on Sunday to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, now in Washington, not to make any comment on the bill during his public engagements there.
In the backdrop of an upheaval in the media and political circles soon after the passage of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, laced with somewhat insulting clauses, Gilani held an important review of the bill with Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in an unpublicised meeting on Sunday.
An informed official said an initial review of the Kerry-Lugar Bill by military strategists also shares a negative perception on various clauses of the bill and it is being shared with US security and military officials at various levels.
A federal cabinet minister said the prime minister has devised a multi-tier transparent review of the bill. Parliament and the prime minister want to carry out a threadbare examination of the bill followed by a similar scrutiny by the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC). Officials said the military- and security-related elements of the Kerry-Lugar Bill would soon be placed before the corps commanders of the Pakistan Army as well as the three services at the Joint Staff Headquarters level to assist the prime minister in drafting Pakistan's official response.
A suspicion is gaining strength in the civil and military leadership that some elements of the Kerry-Lugar Bill aim specifically at creating a deep wedge between the civilian authority and the General Headquarters (GHQ) by raising well-settled issues and linking them with the US aid to Pakistan. The most provocative clause of the bill on this issue states: "An assessment of the extent to which the government of Pakistan exercises effective civilian control of the military, including a description of the extent to which civilian executive leaders and parliament exercise oversight and approval of military budgets, the chain of command, the process of promotion for senior military leaders, civilian involvement in strategic guidance and planning, and military involvement in civil administration." The clause clearly dictates an upside down approach to turn the way the military and civilian authorities function in their well defined domains in Pakistan, an important official source observed.
"I think this is mischief to create a huge civil-military conflict but this will not happen. The prime minister fully understands the game," the minister said.
Pakistani officials are unanimous in their opinion that the bill was a humiliating document for the country that has been offered to the government in exchange for Pakistan's critical support in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. In post-Kerry-Lugar Bill discussions held quietly by the prime minister, some officials favour a transit treaty for Pakistan with Nato and American forces for a smooth flow of military and non-military supplies from the port of Karachi to Afghanistan. Some 5,000 containers of military and non-military supplies for the US and Nato forces are cleared through the port of Karachi for various destinations in Afghanistan every month, an official informed.
As controversial elements and critical strings attached to the Kerry-Lugar Bill continue to unfold, there is a growing impression in the opposition circles and the security establishment that Pakistan's diplomatic corps, particularly its embassy in Washington, failed to convince the US lawmakers on matters of mutual security interest, thus clauses were added in the bill that may compromise Pakistan's sovereignty over issues of critical national interest. Pakistan's ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani consistently maintains that neither the United States nor the government of Pakistan had a sway over content of the bill and Indian lobbying power far outweighs Pakistan's meagre resources to lobby the US Congress.
The bill determines that major Pakistani cities such as Quetta and Muridke near Lahore were serving as bases for terrorist operations and Pakistan would have to mount operations in these cities to ensure flow of financial assistance under the Kerry-Lugar Bill.
The bill also carries a damning declaration that Pakistani military and its intelligence services support extremist and terrorist groups and desires that this perceived support is "ceased" for continued flow of funds to Pakistan.
The bill has so far not divided the Pakistani political spectrum along party lines. Condemnation of controversial clauses of the bill has been heard both from the leaders of the PPP, including Mian Raza Rabbani, and whole range of PML-N leaders besides more aggressive protests from the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Tehrik-e-Insaf.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Ch Nisar Ali Khan set the ball rolling for an anti-Kerry-Lugar Bill campaign in Pakistan on Monday when he stood up on the floor of the Lower House to declare that the bill only protects the rights and objectives of the American government while for Pakistan it has mortgaged even the future of Pakistani children.

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