Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Kerry-Lugar Crazies

Given the tenor of anti-Americanism of late, the fuss over the Kerry-Lugar Bill is far from surprising. But the utter lack of depth and intelligence in the frenzied discussions on TV and in the National Assembly is deeply disappointing. We just secured 7.5 billion dollars worth of non-military aid. That is a huge sum of money. At 1.5 billion dollars a year (120 billion rupees) it equals to over 10% of our annual tax revenue (revenue for 2008-09 stands at 1150 billion rupees). In other words, the bill makes our government 10% richer!

To be sure, Kerry-Lugar comes with strings attached. But the bill that passed in the US Congress is nowhere as stringent as the original draft, which thanks to the lobbying of our government was watered down substantially. And given Pakistan’s circumstances, some of the strings that come with the money are in fact pretty good for the people.

The most important and least talked of condition is that none of the aid be spent on the military. The money will instead fund programs in basic education, agriculture, maternal and child health, higher education, family planning, microenterprise, disease eradication and so on. In my opinion that is fantastic news. The US has been giving huge dollops of aid to the Pak army since the war on terror began and the people of Pakistan had been largely ignored.

The fact that America isn’t simply cutting the government a check is also a plus. It means that the fat cats in the government and bureaucracy won’t be able to get their grubby paws on the wads of green. After the massive misuse of international aid meant for the earthquake victims, America has become much more wary of our venal ruling elite.

So far so good. Now for the controversial stuff. A clause, which Kamran Khan has termed “the most provocative clause”, goes as follows: “An assessment of the extent to which the government of Pakistan exercises effective civilian control of the military, including a description of the extent to which civilian executive leaders and parliament exercise oversight and approval of military budgets, the chain of command, the process of promotion for senior military leaders, civilian involvement in strategic guidance and planning, and military involvement in civil administration.” Khan finds this clause immensely objectionable and has declared it a conspiracy to drive a wedge between the government and the military. So basically, the politicians, journos and pundits are pissed because America wants to make sure it gives aid to a civilian government rather than a military one? Aren’t these guys supposed to be anti-establishment? Weren’t they on a crusade against America because it had been supporting Musharraf and the establishment? Now they don’t want the world’s superpower to keep our military in check?

Next issue. Every year before aid can be released, the US State Department will need to assure the Congress that the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies are not supporting terrorist groups and are still keen on pursuing terrorists. This according to Kamran Khan is a “damning declaration” that paints our venerable forces as terrorist sympathizers. Ummm… Wasn’t it the Pakistani media that has been harping on the terrorist-military connection for this past decade? Weren’t we all sick and tired of the intelligence agencies supporting groups that bomb Pakistanis, capture our territory and fuel sectarian conflict? The fact that there are Taliban sympathizers in the military is not news to anyone. That the US wants to keep the military honest on this count too can only be a good thing.

As far as I can see, the strings that supposedly rob us of our sovereignty are just the kind of leverage the civilian government needs to keep the army at bay. The only loser in this scenario is the army, which not only gets zero money under the bill but is also put on probation. So shouldn’t the politicians and the media be applauding rather than jeering Kerry-Lugar? Shouldn’t the public get over its knee-jerk anti-Americanism and see the bill for the good thing that it is?

The only condition that I can fathom the Pakistani public objecting to is that the US wants Pakistan to dismantle its nuclear weapons proliferation network. This is a sensitive subject for Pakistanis. Most of us love our nuclear bomb and are keen to retain our right to sell it to whomever we want. And if most really feel that passionately about our right to proliferate nuclear weapons then sure go ahead and turn down the 7.5 billion dollars. The army will certainly be delighted. And while our schools and hospitals won’t see any of that cherished green, at least military aid will continue unabated. A win-win for the army. And the public can sleep soundly at night believing that with the Americans out of the way we will have secured a sovereign democratic federation for ourselves.

Correction: The Kerry-Lugar Bill is even better than I had thought. All these military-related strings are applicable to aid attached to the Pak army not the development aid, which means that the bill should be a dream come true for anyone who supports democracy in this country. Clearly, the media and the opposition are not in that camp.

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