ISLAMABAD – A huge American aid package to Pakistan is creating the first serious division between the government and the powerful military establishment which opposes conditions attached to the annual aid package.
“We have communicated our concern regarding clauses impacting on national security to the government,” Major General Ather Abbas, the director general of the army’s inter services public relations (ISPR), told IslamOnline.net on Thursday, October 8.
The US Congress approved last week the Kerry Luger bill which triples annual aid to Pakistan to 1.5 billion dollars for the next four years in recognition of its role in the war on terror.
When asked which particular clauses the military establishment is not happy with, the army spokesman declined to specify. “We are providing a formal input to the government in this regard. Until, the government discusses that, it will not be appropriate for me to talk more about that.”
However, army sources say the clauses regarding the nuclear program and the role of army in national affairs have disturbed the army leadership. Under the clause, Pakistan will be bound to give the US direct access to nuclear scientists or officials who, according to US, are or will be involved in nuclear proliferation. It does not explain how and who will decide that a Pakistan official or scientist has been involved in nuclear proliferation.
Similarly, the sources say, the army leadership vehemently rejects a clause authorizing the US to monitor and ensure that the military establishment doesn’t interfere in civilian and judicial affairs. “This is none of the US business,” an army source quoted a corps commander as saying in a meeting held to discuss the bill with army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kyani on Wednesday, October 7.
“It is an attempt to cripple the army and ISI (inter services intelligence). We must not accept this dangerous clause.” Major General Abbas urged the government and the parliament, which represents the will of the people, to deliberate the issue and reach a national response.
The aid bill is threatening the relations between the civilian government and the army. Observers say the open and public criticism of the bill shows that the military establishment is not just gravely disturbed by the conditions attached to the aid package, but also wants the public to be aware of its stance.
Shocked by the move, the panic-stricken government has gone into urgent deliberations. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has assured the parliament that the government would address the reservations of “all quarters” in this regard.
“The government will definitely address the army’s concern,” said Information Minister Qamar-uz-Zaman Kaira, who earlier dubbed the bill a great success for Pakistan. “Parliament is supreme. If parliament rejects this bill or its certain clauses, the government will comply with that.”
The US is reportedly sending Senator John Kerry, the head of the Senate’s powerful Foreign Relations Committee, to Pakistan to address the army’s “concerns”.
Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, a professor at international relations department, Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad, says the government should use the parliamentary cover to force the US to review the controversial clauses.
“The parliament should have been taken into confidence much earlier,” he told IOL. “But it’s never too late. The government should evolve a consensus on the bill through parliament, and those clauses, which the army and opposition feel are against national interest, should be rejected under that consensus.”
He cited the example of Turkey, a close US ally who in 2003 rejected American aid conditioned on allowing the use of its territory by US troops invading Iraq.
Dr Ahmad advises the government and the US to avoid any confrontation with the army at this critical stage. “We have got success in Swat, and are going to get another success in Waziristan. At this stage, both governments cannot afford any kind of confrontation with the army.”
Dr Ahmad warned that any kind of confrontation between civilian government and the army may destabilize the whole situation. But he remains optimistic that the parties involved would work out a solution. “Both sides will soon reach an understanding as Pakistan’s success in Swat will force the Obama administration to do that.”
Access interview at islamonline.net