Published on The Washington Post, by Karen DeYoung and Scott Wilson, October 8, 2009.
The Obama administration’s strategy for bolstering Pakistan’s civilian government was shaken Wednesday when political opposition and military leaders there sharply criticized a new U.S. assistance plan as interfering with the country’s sovereignty.
Although President Obama has praised the $7.5 billion, five-year aid program — approved by Congress last week — Pakistani officials have objected to provisions that require U.S. monitoring of everything from how they spend the money to the way the military promotes senior officers.
Their criticism threatens to complicate the administration’s efforts in the region, where Pakistan’s assistance is seen as crucial to the war in Afghanistan …
… U.S. and Pakistani officials said that the government was on board with the aid package and that accommodation could be reached with the political opposition. They suggested that the criticism was part of what one senior Pakistani official close to Zardari called an “orchestrated campaign” by elements within Pakistan’s military and its intelligence service opposed to civilian control of foreign and defense policies. The army had been “completely briefed” in advance about all elements in the aid package, the official said, describing the military’s alarm this week as disingenuous.
Pakistani political analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi said that the language in the legislation could have been “more diplomatic and softer” but that the bill had become a vehicle for unrelated disputes. “If the Pakistani government, the opposition and the military cannot come to a consensus,” Rizvi said, “then it is going to create problems for the ties between the U.S. and Pakistan.”
The bill, named after its chief sponsors, Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, triples the amount of U.S. economic assistance to Pakistan, which has long been overshadowed by military aid.
Obama was an original sponsor of the measure, first introduced when he served in the Senate, and the bill is the centerpiece of his administration’s development efforts in Pakistan. Its passage this year was stalled when House members, recalling a lack of supervision over billions of dollars given to Pakistan during the Bush administration, insisted on stricter monitoring provisions. The version that ultimately emerged from a conference committee and was approved last week mandates regular administration certification that Pakistan is adhering to a wide range of requirements. (full long 2 pages text).
(Special correspondent Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad and staff writer Ben Pershing in Washington contributed to this report).