To smooth Pakistan's feathers, Kerry clarifies aid bill

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 14, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will sign a $7.5 billion aid bill for Pakistan by week's end, the White House said Wednesday, after lawmakers crafted a statement designed to assuage Pakistani concerns that the aid comes with strings that infringe upon that country's sovereignty.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-author of the bill, insisted that it was being misinterpreted or misunderstood by some in Pakistan's government and military. Still, to alleviate their concerns, he and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote an explanatory statement to accompany the legislation to the White House and into the Congressional Record.

"I think everybody is on the same page, we are all clear about the intention of the legislation, we've heard very clearly from the foreign minister about the concerns raised in Pakistan over this legislation," Kerry said at a Capitol Hill news conference with Berman and Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

"It also makes absolutely clear ... that the legislation does not seek to compromise Pakistan's sovereignty, does not seek to impinge on the national security interests, or even micromanage any aspect of Pakistan's military or civilian operations," Kerry said.

The bill provides Pakistan $1.5 billion a year for five years for new schools, hospitals and other development aid. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari hailed the package last week as Pakistan's greatest source of non-military aid.

But the bill infuriated the military and the political opposition in Pakistan and fed into a wave of anti-Americanism. In an extraordinary move last week, the military issued a statement saying it has "serious concern" over the legislation's wording.

The bill would require Pakistan to take action against extremist groups, including the Afghan Taliban leadership, and to work against nuclear proliferation. It also states that Pakistan should "cease all support for extremist and terrorist groups," suggesting flatly that it's supporting some now.

As for the military aid, the bill would require the secretary of state to certify that Pakistan is "dismantling terrorist bases of operations."

Pakistani officials object that the bill also requires a "monitoring report" to be submitted to Congress twice a year on a series of benchmarks, including civilian control over the military, down to civilian oversight over the appointment of senior officers. In a country where the army has ruled for most of Pakistan's existence, the military viewed that as unacceptable.

Some Pakistani officials believe that the objections are politically inspired to wound Zardari's government. Kerry said he understood how issues could be framed for political purposes.

"All you have to do is hear our debate in the health care committee today and get a sense of that," he said Tuesday.

The rumblings in Islamabad caused consternation in Washington. U.S. relations with Pakistan are a critical element in whatever strategy Obama chooses in handling the war in Afghanistan.

Qureshi, who was swiftly dispatched to Washington to register Pakistan's complaints, appeared satisfied with the statement.

"You heard me, and this document today, which I think is a historic document, is a step forward in our relationship," he said.

The statement doesn't alter the legislation, Kerry said, but it does clarify the measure's intent.

"There are no conditions on Pakistan attached to the authorization of $7.5 billion in non-military aid," the statement reads. "The only requirements on this funding are financial accountability measures that Congress is imposing on the U.S. executive branch, to ensure that this assistance supports programs that most benefit the Pakistani people."

Any requirements placed on Pakistan's military, the statement says, "align with the aims of, and serve to reinforce the publicly articulated positions of, the democratically-elected Government of Pakistan and Pakistani military leaders, to combat extremists and militants."

The statement profusely repeats that the bill doesn't tread on Pakistan's independence.

"Any interpretation of this Act which suggests that the United States does not recognize and respect the sovereignty of Pakistan would be directly contrary to congressional intent," it states.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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