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Pakistan to debate controversial U.S. aid bill

world Updated: Oct 07, 2009 15:17 IST
Zeeshan Haider
Highlight Story

Pakistan's parliament is due to begin a debate on a U.S. aid bill on Wednesday after widespread criticism in the country that some conditions attached to it are a humiliating violation of sovereignty.

The U.S. Congress last week approved a bill tripling aid for Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for the next five years and sent it to President Barack Obama for signing into law.

The legislation is part of a bid to build a new relationship with Pakistan that no longer focuses on military ties, but also on Pakistan's social and economic development.

But in an effort to address U.S. concerns that Pakistan's military may support militant groups, the bill stipulates that U.S. military aid will cease if Pakistan does not help fight "terrorists", including Taliban and al Qaeda members taking sanctuary on the Afghan border.

The bill also seeks Pakistani cooperation to dismantle nuclear supplier networks by offering "relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks", a reference to disgraced nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan who ran a black market in atomic technology.

Pakistan has declined to let foreign investigators question Khan, saying it has passed on all information gleaned from him.

The bill, co-authored by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, also provides for an assessment of how effective is the civilian government's control over the powerful military.

Opposition politicians have criticised President Asif Ali Zardari's government for allowing the humiliation of the country.
"The incompetence of the Zardari regime has brought humiliation for Pakistan," said Ahsan Iqbal, a spokesman for the main opposition party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

"Our party appreciates the spirit behind the initiative. However, it feels that any conditionality with such assistance must respect Pakistan's sovereignty and self-respect."

"INSULTING"
The controversy comes as the United States, Pakistan's biggest aid donor, is pressing the army to expand its operations against Pakistani Taliban fighters to include Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda militants in lawless border enclaves.

Plans by the United States to expand its embassy in Pakistan have also raised suspicion, as has speculation about the embassy's use of private security contractors.

The army had also expressed concern over the "degrading" and "insulting" language of the bill, the News newspaper reported.
Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani conveyed those concerns to the U.S. commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, in a meeting on Tuesday, the News said.

Kerry told reporters in Washington on Tuesday that there were no conditions attached to development aid and the bill's conditions on military aid "do not require anything of Pakistan that is not already in the stated policy of the government and opposition parties".

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, also in Washington, agreed, that "there is no question of Pakistan's sovereignty being compromised" by the measure.

But analysts say while the concerns about militancy and nuclear proliferation might be legitimate, their enunciation in an aid bill was seen as interference.

"In principle, most of the things they say are not bad ... but actually it's a question of national dignity," said Talat Masood, a retired general and security analyst. "It appears as if they are dictating foreign, security and domestic policies."

Parliament was not expected to reject the bill, but was likely to pass a resolution highlighting its concerns.

"While appreciating the objectives laid out, the resolution must firmly enumerate the unacceptable portions of the bill," commentator Nasim Zehra wrote in an article in the News.

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