Pakistan 'insulted' by US aid bill

Critics claim that package undermines sovereignty
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The Independent Online

The Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari, is desperately trying to fight off critics – many of them inside the country's armed forces – who claim that conditions attached to a multi-billion dollar aid package from the US undermines the country's sovereignty.

Amid a row that has pitched the civilian government against top military commanders, Mr Zardari has insisted that provisions contained within the $7.5bn (£4.7bn) aid package would be welcomed by anyone who supported democracy in Pakistan. He has ordered his ministers to defend the package against hostile criticism.

Mr Zardari told ministers and senior members of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) that the aid package only required certification by the US "that Pakistan was moving along the path of democracy, nuclear non-proliferation and drugs control". He added rhetorically, "Who in Pakistan under the present democratic dispensation would disagree with these goals?"

Last week, the US Senate passed the long-awaited Kerry-Lugar bill that authorises $1.5bn a year in non-military aid for Pakistan for the next five years. The bill, that will help the government confront economic and social issues as well as deepen Washington's leverage in the region, has been sent to the US President, Barack Obama, to be signed into law.

But with the US persistently concerned about pressuring Pakistan to do more to target militants responsible for attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan, the legislation contains a number of provisions and a warning that US military aid will be halted if the battle against "terrorists" is stopped.

It calls on Pakistan to help dismantle nuclear supply networks by providing information about anyone associated with them – a reference to the nuclear scientist AQ Khan, who operated a black market in atomic technology.

Crucially, the bill, co-written by senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, calls for an assessment of how effective the government's control is over the powerful military establishment.

It is this last provision in particular, with its "degrading and insulting language", that has infuriated the army. Reports say that the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, raised his concerns with the US commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, when they met this week, and with Pakistan's Prime Minister, Yousuf Gilani, on the same day.

Opposition politicians have also turned on the government. "The incompetence of the Zardari regime has brought humiliation for Pakistan," Ahsan Iqbal, a spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, told Reuters. "Our party appreciates the spirit behind the initiative. However, it feels that any conditionality with such assistance must respect Pakistan's sovereignty and self-respect."

Last night, Pakistan's parliament was debating the aid bill. Analysts said that it was unlikely to turn its back on the package but would probably pass a resolution highlighting its concerns.

The US is unlikely to change the provisions, which it sees as means of maintaining control over the government and how it spends the money. Many in the US believe that Pakistan's military remains unwilling to confront militants who carry out cross-border raids in Afghanistan, and which some within the military consider strategic assets.

Earlier this week, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, met the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to raise concerns about some of the language in the bill. But later, with a nodding Mr Qureshi beside her, Mrs Clinton said: "Those who have questions and doubts should read the legislation, which is very clear in its intent."

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