Friday 16 October 2009

Kerry Lugar Bill - II: Failure of Pakistan's foreign policy

It is not a bill any more - it has now been signed into a law by president Obama thus opening doors to tripling of non-military aid to Pakistan to about $7.5 billion over the next five years. In my last blog post I provided the full text of the bill with a view that any commentary on the bill (now a law) should be based on facts not assumptions.

Though the US government would like Pakistanis to believe that by approving this new law “President Obama wanted to engage Pakistan on the basis of a strategic partnership ‘grounded in support for Pakistan’s democratic institutions and the Pakistani people’ “ much of mainstream Pakistani media and most of the political opposition has been having fits of anger over the alleged transgression into Pakistani sovereignty by the American congress. Pakistan Army broke protocol by going public in its opposition to the bill. While the Pakistani government is at pains to describe it as an unprecedented political achievement, ordinary people are as clueless about what's going on as George Bush was during his entire presidency. They are all wrong in one way or the other and here is why.

Let us have look at what the bill is all about. Kerry Lugar Bill or Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 is now a law under which the Congress has authorised the American president to provide non-military aid to Pakistan to support:
  • strengthening of civilian democratic institutions
  • expansion of rule of law through capacity building and bringing in transparency
  • sustainable economic development and freedom
  • investment in people especially women and children
  • combating militancy through public diplomacy
Security aid to Pakistan is to be provided to:
  • fight and win counterinsurgency within Pakistani borders
  • stop Pakistani territory from being used as a base or conduit for terrorist attacks
  • promote control of military institutions by a democratically elected civilian government
Pakistan can have this aid if the US president certifies that:
  • Pakistan continues to cooperate with the US in efforts to curb unauthorised sale/distribution of nuclear weapons/information (including providing direct access to Pakistani nationals associated/involved in proliferation networks)
  • The Government of Pakistan remains committed to the fight against terrorism
  • The government, including the military and intelligence agencies, are ceasing support to terrorists/militants operating in Afghanistan or ‘against the territory or people of neighbouring countries’
  • The Government of Pakistan is preventing terrorist groups from carrying out cross-border attacks, is dismantling terrorists’ bases in the country, and strengthening counter-terrorism and anti-money-laundering laws
  • The security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial process in the country
On face value this is a US law that has no direct bearing on the state of Pakistan. Pakistan government can choose to decline any aid from the US that requires it to meet the stringent demands that the law imposes. But lets be pragmatic - beggars can’t be choosers – if Pakistan government wants US aid it will have to comply with the conditions that the US congress in return for the aid provided.

No sane person in Pakistan or abroad will disagree with any of the objectives set out in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act. All the conditions attached are on the wish list of every patriot Pakistani and we would like these to be implemented in Pakistan as a part of change that is essentially needed. So what is the source of discontent, then!

Pakistan army is unhappy that the law requires the aid to be used to “promote control of military institutions by a democratically elected civilian government”. It asks the US Secretary of State to certify that “the security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan”. Material and substantial subversion of political set up by military might be considered as their birth right by some generals in the Pakistan army but they wouldn’t like the Americans to be putting this on record and so bluntly.

What’s even more humiliating, for Pakistan's security apparatus is that the law also requires the US Secretary of State to confirm that the Government of Pakistan has taken action to “ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighbouring countries” – thus directly implicating Pakistan army and intelligence agencies in acts of terrorism especially in India. This is where army has the support of the masses as well.

Right wing political opposition is unhappy at the bill because it has clearly been drafted with explicit input of the Indian lobby in US without any acknowledgement to Pakistan’s geo political interests. References to Muridke and Punjab as terrorist hubs, and formally asking the security agencies to "cease support" of terrorism highlights Indian influence on drafting of this bill and has served no other purpose than to irk a vast majority of ordinary Pakistanis.

Our erstwhile president and his minions are at pains to describe this as a democracy friendly law and a massive political achievement for the current government in Pakistan. If their pleasure is driven out of the clauses that appear to be supportive of the political establishment and against the military adventurism they better wake up. With every clause and condition, including those that stand out in support of civilian and political infrastructure, there is room provided to US president and Secretary of State to seek waiver from most of the clauses in the law if "the Secretary of State determines that is important to the national security interests of the United States to do so" – effectively meaning that the aid could continue to pour in even if there is another military takeover in Pakistan, for as long as it is in US interest.

I welcome the rigour, control, checks and balances that the law requires to ensure that the aid provided is spent on the areas that it is supposed to be used for. I believe that most of the content including civil military relationship is in line with the broader wishes of a common man in Pakistan. It would have benefited from slightly different drafting by an intelligent diplomat - which I do no think is the case currently. Language of certain clauses in the bill reminded me of an Urdu phrase "Bakri nay doodh diya woh bhi maingni bhara" literally meaning that the goat gave milk but dropped in it her faeces in the process.

The law is a significant coup for the Indian foreign office as they managed to make a US law serve the Indian agenda so blatantly. It is, however, a disgrace for Pakistan foreign office and failure of its foreign policy for letting the Indian foreign policy dictate its relations with US.

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