COMMENTARY
 
Kerry-Lugar Bill: Separating Fact from Fiction
Weekly Pulse
October 2-8, 2009
On September 24, the US Senate passed the Kerry-Lugar Bill, under which Pakistan will annually received $1.5 billion civilian assistance from the US government for the next five years. The bipartisan Bill, titled as ‘Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009,’ will become an Act after being passed by the House of Representatives and signed by the President, a process that may take a week or so. The US aid package amounting to $7.5 billion in total is meant for democratic, economic and social development of the country. If Pakistan’s performance in utilizing this assistance is certified by the US government to be satisfactory after the end of the five-year period in 2013, then the country will qualify for another package of US aid amounting to the same 7.5 billion for another five-year period, 2014-2018.

It was President Barack Obama who broke the happy news about the passage of the Kerry-Lugar Bill the same day at a meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan in New York, participating by him, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, President Zardari and a host of other leaders and dignitaries from across the world. The historic gathering decided to set up a multi-billion dollar trust fund to provide financial assistance to Pakistan for recovery of its economy. The British Prime Minister committed another 50 million pounds forthwith for the same purpose.

Unjustified Criticism

If all of these pledges do not constitute a major success of Pakistani diplomacy, then what else can? Yet the reaction from the detractors of the current civilian democratic government in the country to the Kerry-Lugar Bill is quite unusual and irresponsible. The PML-N stole a phrase from General Ziaul Haq’s mouth when its spokesman Ahsan Iqbal termed the amount pledged under the Bill as “peanuts.” The PML-Q leadership called it an “insult” to the nation; and the all-too anti-American pro-al-Qaeda, pro-Taliban Jmaat-e-Islami declared it as “death warrant” for the country.

If this was not enough, one of the leading newspapers of the country published only a segment of “conditionalities” mentioned in the Bill by introducing them as its “full text.” Even the conditionalities cited were those which pertained to US military assistance or the transfer of arms to Pakistan, which do not restrict the provision of civilian aid to the country, which the Kerry-Lugar Bill is all about. The consequent criticism of the Bill, which has not yet become a law, revolves around claims by opposition politicians and some media analysts that its stringent conditionality regime violates Pakistan’s national sovereignty.

Facts, however, speak to the contrary. First of all, any financial commitment that is made to Pakistan either by the international community in the formation of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan currently or by the United States at this critical juncture is a positive development. Therefore, its criticism by the two wings of PML is unjustified. As for Jamaat-e-Islami, which is more of a pressure group than a political party because of its negligible electoral standing in national politics in the last 20 years, its condemnation of the government for accepting US assistance is immoral, given the radical religious party’s own track-record of surviving on the money begged nationally in the form of goat skins and funds collected publicly in the name of jihad in Kashmir.

Much of the criticism on the Bill, however, seems to reflect utter ignorance on the part of both opposition politicians and media analysts. Just as it happened many times in the recent past, most probably they have not actually read the document. I remember the national debate on the CTBT back in the 1990s. You would have Jamaat-e-Islami leader Qazi Hussain Ahmad lecturing us daily on the pitfalls of signing the nuclear agreement. Ask him about its various clauses, and what you confront is an empty mind.

The Conditionalities

This brings me to the second point: that of the various conditionalities mentioned in the Kerry-Lugar Bill. The mention of these conditionalities is nothing new. Pick any US Foreign Assistance Act approved by the US Congress with reference to Pakistan in the last thirty years—starting with the first package of US Assistance amounting to $3.7 billion we received in the 1980s for our role in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan—the Congress always requires the office of the President or the Secretary of State to certify that the aid being given to a country is being spent in areas where it is legally meant to. The conditionalities are, thus, essentially meant for the US government not for the aid recipient. And if at all these conditionalities have indirect implication for the recipient country—such as the case with the Kerry-Lugar Bill—there is nothing wrong in not having them, if they are meant to reform police, build schools, improve healthcare or promote democracy.

The Kerry-Lugar Bill, just like the Friends of Democratic Pakistan’s commitment, to help the country in its hour of need constitute an international acknowledgement of the role played and the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in combating terrorism. For years, Pakistani leadership has strived to convince the international community that it deserves to be treated as seriously as Afghanistan in terms of the international financial help to combat terrorism effectively.

Afghanistan has consistently received a number of US and international aid packages at scores of international donors’ conferences staring in January 2002. Yet all of this assistance has not made a difference in its ground reality reflecting growing Taliban-led insurgency in recent years. Pakistan, on the other hand, has performed miraculously at least this year in reversing al-Qaeda-inspired and Taliban-led terrorist insurgency in Swat and adjoining areas, and we are most likely to build upon this historic success in South Waziristan in coming days and weeks. And Pakistan has succeeded with comparatively negligible US and international assistance.

So, just imagine, if the pledges made in the Kerry-Lugar Bill and Friends of Democratic Pakistan, in addition to the immediate British assistance, start to be utilized effectively by the Pakistani regime, in cooperation with local and foreign civil society and aid institutions, what a great difference this international help will make in turning around the situation against the merchants of death and in favor of the suffering masses of the country!

The Actual Bill

Finally, let me describe very briefly what the Kerry-Lugar Bill actually states, especially what sort of conditionalities are incorporated in it. This Bill is, in fact, an updated and revised version of the Biden-Lugar Bill, which lapsed in the previous Congress. The original version of the Bill was sponsored by Senators Richard Lugar and Joseph Biden, who is now the US Vice President. When the Bill was introduced in the Senate in July 2008, Biden was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Since Kerry is a Democratic and Lugar a Republication, the Bill’s passage in the Senate was through a bi-partisan “unanimous consent.”

It is a compromise Bill, as some of the harsh conditionalities included in its original form have now been removed. For instance, the condition of cooperation with India has been removed from the amended version and a new condition of cooperation with the neighbors on war against terrorism has been included. Also, the condition on access to A Q Khan has been struck out. Against the House version conditioning the release of military assistance on the president's certification that the Islamabad “demonstrated a sustained commitment to and made progress towards combating terrorist groups,” the compromise version simply states that the president has to certify that Pakistan is “making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups ... including taking into account the extent to which it has made progress on matters” related to counter-terrorism.

The actual Bill is a lengthy document, and the conditionalities reported in the local press are only a small segment of it. It has ten sections, including Short Title, Findings, Definitions, Statement of Policy, Authorization of Funds, Limitation on Certain Assistance, Sense of Congress on Coalition Support Funds, Pakistan-Afghanistan Border Areas Strategy, Sense of Congress, and Term of Years. The title of the Bill is “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009.” The Findings section provides a 16-point narrative of US-Pakistan relations in which, notably, Pakistan is called “a major non-NATO ally of the United States” and “a valuable partner in the battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Definitions section includes definitions of terms such as “insurgency”, “counter-insurgency” and “counter-terrorism.” The Statement of Policy section mentions 10 US policy objectives in Pakistan, including “to support the consolidation of democracy, good governance, and rule of law in Pakistan; economic growth and development in order to promote stability and security across Pakistan; to affirm and build a sustained, long-term, multifaceted relationship with Pakistan; to further the sustainable economic development of Pakistan and the improvement of the living conditions of its citizens, including in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, by expanding United States bilateral engagement with the Government of Pakistan, especially in areas of direct interest and importance to the daily lives of the people of Pakistan.”

The Authorization of Funs section narrates several conditionalities, which, as stated before, are primarily meant for the offices of President, the Secretary of State and the President’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to submit periodic reports certifying whether the annual aid in two tranches of $750 million is being spent for the proposed civilian sectors. The general, and specific, provisions relating to use of funds include just and democratic governance, economic freedom, investments in people, especially women and children, long-term development in regions of Pakistan where internal conflict has caused large-scale displacement. Apart from the requirement of the submission of the Pakistan Assistance Strategy Report the State Department, the President, the Secretary of State and the Comptroller General have to notify the Congress as per various deadlines set in each case about the utilization of funds.

It is the Limitations on Certain 203 of the Bill over which unnecessary controversy is being generated in Pakistan—particularly paragraph (c) of sec 203, entitled ‘certification,’ which lists three subjects the Secretary of State has to certify to Congress that Pakistan is cooperating on, committed to and eschewing from. The fact is that these conditionalties pertain only to the US security-related assistance and major defense transfers to Pakistan, and not to the civilian assistance included in the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Critics of the Bill in Pakistan, either out of ignorance because they have not read it or deliberately, seem to project conditionalties in the Bill as if they are applicable to its full amount.

The certification required by this subsection is a “certification by the Secretary of State, under the direction of the President, to the appropriate congressional committees that: (1) the Government of Pakistan is continuing to cooperate with the United States in efforts to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons-related materials, such as providing relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks; (2) the Government of Pakistan during the preceding fiscal year has demonstrated a sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups, consistent with the purposes of assistance described in section 201, including taking into account the extent to which the Government of Pakistan has made progress on matters such as (A) 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 the United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighbouring countries; (B) preventing al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, from operating in the territory of Pakistan, including carrying out cross-border attacks into neighbouring countries, closing terrorist camps in the Fata, dismantling terrorist bases of operations in other parts of the country, including Quetta and Muridke, and taking action when provided with intelligence about high-level terrorist targets; and (C) strengthening counterterrorism and anti-money laundering laws; and (3) the security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan."

Interestingly, none of the three conditionalities mentioned in paragraph (c) of section 203 is in contradiction with Pakistan’s declared policies, including the commitment to dismantle nuclear supplier networks, to combat terrorism in al of its forms and manifestations, and not to let terrorist groups use Pakistani territory to conduct terrorism abroad. And Pakistan’s security establishment also does not have any intension of materially or substantially interfering in the country’s political or judicial processes. If Pakistani government or state is really committed to eliminating the scourge of terrorism from its society after having experienced its deadliest of all expression in recent years, and if they wishes wish to strengthen the country’s democracy and judiciary, then there is no cause for worry insofar as the aforementioned conditionalties are concerned.

As stated above, each year the Secretary of State has to certify before the appropriate Congressional committees that Pakistan’s performance concerning all of these mostly terrorism-specific issues is satisfactory in the preceding one-year period. Even if the US Secretary of State failed to certify, that would not affect the US civilian aid inflow to the country covered by the Kerry-Lugar Bill and will only affect US military aid and transfer of arms to the country. More importantly, the Secretary of State has been given the right to waive some of the sub-conditionalties pertaining only to US military aid and the transfer of arms to Pakistan “if the Secretary determines it is important to the national security interests of the United States to provide such waiver.”

As for the remaining sections of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, under its ‘Sense of Congress on Coalition Support Funds’ section, the Secretary of Defense is required to report to the Congress on the utilization of the funds. And under ‘Pakistan-Afghanistan Border Areas’ section, the Secretary of State, in consultation with other officials, is required to develop a comprehensive, cross-border counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategy and submit a report to the Congress about this strategy.

Finally, under the ‘Sense of Congress’ section, the United States is enjoined, among others, to “recognize Pakistan’s quest for good governance and the rule of law”, and “seize this strategic opportunity in the interests of Pakistan as well as in the national security interests of the United States to expand its engagement with the Government and people of Pakistan. Finally, states the starting date of the Act as “September 30, 2013,” should actually be early October now.

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