The Pakistan Army on Wednesday asserted its position as the country’s pre-eminent power centre by openly coming out against the conditions laid down in a U.S. legislation to provide massive financial aid to Pakistan, exposing its differences with the Zardari-led government on the issue.
The monthly corps commanders’ conference, chaired by Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, expressed “serious concern” about conditions in the Kerry-Lugar Bill that was passed by the U.S. Congress last month and seeks to promote democracy in Pakistan.
The legislation is awaiting President Obama’s assent. But in the wake of the Pakistan Army’s open opposition, it is unclear what course the Obama Administration will adopt.
A military press release said the conference discussed the Bill, which enables the U.S. to provide $7.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan, the highest-ever such assistance to the country from Washington.
“The forum expressed serious concerns impacting on national security. A formal input is being provided to the government,” it said. The press release did not specify which conditions had annoyed the Army brass.
The conditions for assistance include certification by the U.S. Secretary of State that Pakistan is co-operating in nuclear non-proliferation, including giving the U.S. government access to individuals involved in proliferation networks.
The Secretary of State must also certify that Pakistan has taken steps to dismantle terrorist infrastructure, including that of Al Qaeda and Taliban, and also of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
But the clause that appears to have angered the military most relates to a U.S. evaluation of the civilian government’s oversight and involvement in matters relating to the military budget, promotions in the top levels of the military hierarchy, the chain of command, and strategic and security policy.
According to reports, the military perceives that sections within the government have deliberately worked to undermine its position in Pakistan through the Bill.
The decision to go public with their anger has raised new questions about the future of democracy in Pakistan, and more specifically, the Army’s relations with Pakistan’s present civilian government, which supports the Bill, and the Opposition parties that have protested strongly against it.
President Zardari had earlier this week urged PPP parliamentarians to put up a strong defence of the U.S. legislation during a debate in the National Assembly which began on Wednesday evening.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, however, made it clear there would be no confrontation with the Army.