By Usman Sadozai
The Pakistan Army has taken the unusual step of officially expressing concern and apprehension about the Kerry-Lugar Bill, at the end of the 122nd Corps Commanders Conference. The communiqué is a poorly disguised warning. It’s a transgression by the military and poses a challenge to the fragile and nascent democracy that it could have done without. One of the concerns that the military wishes to address, it is claimed by analysts, is to give out the message to the Pakistani public that its Army does not take orders from Washington.
It was wrong when, a year or so ago, Gen Kayani took it upon himself to make a statement about how the Army will uphold the people’s wishes regarding Kashmir (‘qaum kee umango’n..’). It is not for Gen Kayani but the politicians to ascertain and the government to decide what the people’s wishes are. His job is to follow all legal orders of the constitutional government. It is even worse now that the Corps Commanders have chosen to throw their weight, as it were, behind the opposition. This kind of political interference is unforgivable.
The people of Pakistan and many in the media have been wary of ever-increasing American influence in Islamabad. Indeed, the Pakistani rumour mill has been needlessly active in putting out intriguing conspiratorial stories when the reality ought to more than suffice as a cause for genuine concern about Washington’s undue influence. However, the real issues have little to do with the Kerry-Lugar Bill (more formally, the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009).
The worst that the US can do, in case Pakistan is found falling foul of the conditions set in the Bill, is to stop giving the money. One could accept, for the sake of argument, that the other side of this coin could be more worrying though. That is, the Government of Pakistan agreeing to give itself a monetary incentive to act in accordance with the wishes of Washington, as expressed within the relevant sections of the Bill. A pertinent question then may be: what are these controversial sections? With the next question being: why are they controversial?
Those who have read the Bill would have seen that it emphasises two themes when it comes to what the US legislators expect in return for their voters’ money: a) very broadly, the strengthening of democracy and (some) civilian institutions and infrastructure in Pakistan, and b) Pakistan’s continued commitment in the war against Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and other foreign terrorist organisations that may have a presence on Pakistani territory. The Bill lays down mechanisms whereby the US Government must provide periodic assessments to relevant congressional committees of how the assistance is being used and whether or not the criteria set are being met by Pakistan. There are separate reporting mechanisms relating to the military and civilian parts of the assistance. In either case, the US Government is able to produce Waivers effectively dissociating the assistance from any or all conditions for a particular fiscal year or other period.
The more controversial part of the Bill is a ‘third’ theme. However, the Bill’s drafters perhaps thought it more prudent to try and pass it off as part of the second theme – the War on Terror – even though it is clearly and directly related to, if not part and parcel of, the first theme, i.e. strengthening democracy. After the clauses requiring a concerted effort against the terrorists, the last clause demands that the security forces of Pakistan do not ‘materially interfere with the political or judicial processes of Pakistan’. This general area has long been one of considerable controversy and difficulty for both Washington and Rawalpindi.
Condeleezza Rice, while addressing an audience at an American university campus during the lame-duck days of the Bush administration, talked of how the US would prefer to deal with the civilian institutions of Pakistan instead of the military. But that would only make any sense, she explained, once the civilian could show a degree of control and super-ordination over the military. While, on the other hand, Negroponte was telling Congress, Pakistanis and the world, days before the February 18 general election in Pakistan, that his administration considered Musharraf to be “indispensable”. He and others, often from the Cheney camp, kept reiterating this mantra from just before Musharraf decided to shed his military uniform. Rice had been repeatedly stating that she considered any comments about the 60 sacked judges to be interfering in ‘an internal matter of Pakistan,’ even as she thought it no such thing to implore Musharraf to end the ‘emergency’ he had declared on November 3, 2007.
This historical ‘difficulty’ started for Washington when General Ayub Khan decided to keep Karachi (then capital of Pakistan) out of the loop in dealing with the US on military assistance to Pakistan. He ‘hijacked’ the Pentagon and State Department contacts (e.g. the Dulles brothers) from the bureaucrat, Iskander Mirza (then Defence Secretary), who had already bypassed the political government. The Americans, never known to waste time looking at longer term consequences, and pressed by the (psychological) urgency of the Cold War, were more than happy to establish direct contacts with the Pakistani Commander-in-Chief. So reluctant was Ayub Khan to relinquish this direct access to Washington and the power that it gave him that he parked himself, in full military uniform, in the cabinet as the Minister for Defence in 1954. The rest, as they say, is history.
This new US administration is more than just a change from Republicans to Democrats. Obama needs to be seen to be different from not just Bush, but, if possible, all that has gone before him. From the American point of view, the Bill, as it is drafted, is a step in the right direction. Have they overdone it? Maybe. It might look as ‘interference’ to some Pakistanis, but with the US Government being able to give the Waivers, does it really matter? In any case, Pakistan is being asked to do what most Pakistanis wish and hope their country should be doing anyway. So, why should US legislators demanding the same, in return for their taxpayers’ money, make us want do it any less?
There has been an orchestrated effort in Pakistan to make this Bill controversial. So, that might add some weight to the argument that Parliament should be allowed to discuss it. But Parliament, at this late stage, has only one choice available to it: take it or leave it. If we do not intend to do as our American friends and all rational Pakistanis wish us to do, then would it be better to let Parliament to say ‘No, thank you’ now? Or, let Americans stop the aid if and when they want to? Why say no to free money until then? How then is Pakistani sovereignty or freedom of action affected?
Should the Government have taken Parliament into confidence from the beginning? It was the executive’s prerogative to proceed with negotiations and agreement with a foreign government without necessarily involving the Parliament. The finer points of democratic rights and wrongs of not involving Parliament may be debated. But there is no debating the fact that it is no business of the Corps commanders, whatsoever, to interfere in politics.
The Kerry-Lugar Bill acknowledges the gallant effort and sacrifice of the Pakistani security forces better and more fully than do many Pakistanis who are opposing it. This opposition includes those who supported or were ambivalent to the Lal Masjid-type mullahs declaring that they would not join in janaza prayers for (Muslim) Pakistani soldiers laying down their lives, in our defence, in FATA. Many opposing the Bill also believe that Pakistani ‘sovereignty’ would have been stronger had Baitullah Mehsud not been dispatched by an American drone. Whether they wished it or not, or realise it or not, the Corps Commanders have strengthened the hand of those who are more sympathetic to the cause of the enemy than interested in supporting and standing behind our brave soldiers. These forces are waiting for the next maverick general holding a ‘tasbeeh’ in his hand rather than a lap dog under each arm. Anything that weakens democracy is a boon to them.