If you think bipartisanship in this country is becoming unnecessarily heated, try being a politician in Pakistan this week. The country’s National Assembly was called into session on Wednesday evening to conduct an emergency debate, and tensions have been rising between the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and a number of opposition parties. The issue in question: whether or not to accept a $7.5 billion dollar aid package from the United States.
The Kerry-Lugar Bill was passed by Congress on September 24 and awaits President Obama’s approval. It has sparked a political firestorm in Pakistan because of stipulations that the Pakistani military be subject to oversight by the U.S. government. Reuters reports:
Clauses in the bill require the U.S. secretary of state to certify that Pakistan is dismantling militant bases in its northwest, in the southwestern city of Quetta where U.S. administration believes the Afghan Taliban leaders are hiding, as well as in Punjab province, where anti-India groups lurk.
On Wednesday a conference of top Pakistani commanders made a ‘rare’ public statement expressing their “serious concern regarding clauses (of the bill) impacting on national security.” One opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, is calling for the bill to be rejected altogether, while others are calling for further review and amendments.
The PPP accuses the opposition of spreading incendiary propaganda about the bill. Pakistani media outlets are characterizing the aid package as a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty and a “damning indictment” of the Pakistani government. Unfortunately, the opposition has on its side a prevailing public mood of mistrust towards the United States and its counter-terrorism policies, specifically attacks by arial drones. According to Reuters:
“Analysts say the military’s public disapproval of the bill could embolden the government’s critics who could take to the streets. The military could use the opposition to put pressure on the government over the clauses it objects to while avoiding direct conflict.”
It remains to be seen whether concerns on the part of the Pakistani military will need to be addressed, or if in fact the issue is being blown out of proportion for political reasons. In any case, opposition parties appear to have employed a very useful tactic by emphasizing the demanding tone of the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Unfortunately, the controversy has struck a substantial blow to the U.S.-friendly Pakistan People’s Party at a time when developing political alliances in the region is crucial to U.S.-counter terrorism strategy.
Posted by Mary Tharin