Several serious political issues have taken over the media and garnered national attention over the past few weeks. These include President Zardari’s trip to the United States, the Punjab government requesting a delay in the by-poll elections the bomb blast at the World Food Program UN office in Islamabad and of course, the Kerry-Lugar Bill seems to be leading in the popular vote. The question is, with immense opposition brewing and the government allowing an open debate in the National Assembly, will we be able to find a viable solution?
Since the return of President Zardari from the United States after meetings at the United Nations General Assembly and co-chairing the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP), the political parties and the military establishment have much to say about the passage of the Kerry-Lugar bill. After nearly a week of heated criticism, it is still complicated to identify whether this anger is due to previous animosity or if it is legitimate anger towards the Bill. As with most protests, there has been no positive criticism of the problem at hand. Some politicians have gone to the extent of claiming that Pakistan has given up its nuclear assets whereas and that the US wants to interfere in the Army recruitments and promotion. Many other elected officials have blatantly declared that the Bill has violated Pakistan’s sovereignty. Notable journalists have gone to great extremes in order to sling as much mud on the Bill as possible. Has it become the nation’s favorite pastime to bluntly blast the United States on any given opportunity?
The quick departure of America from Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion seems to be the underlying reason as to why we enjoy lambasting the United States. We claim it was a betrayal of trust. Many readers will be questioning my patriotism here, but I ask, how faithful has Pakistan been since the Soviets left Afghanistan in the late 1980’s? We siphoned mujahedeen aid money towards our nuclear program, we were caught in the illegal trade of nuclear technology and weapons, we bred and groomed militants in hopes that they would be able to “rescue” Kashmir from India, politicians were running wild with corruption during the 1990’s, and we have now discovered most of our aid money during the Musharraf years was utilized in defending ourselves from India. Looking back, have we really been the perfect significant other? Do not get me wrong. I am not at all articulating that two wrongs make a right. Rather, I am pointing out that we have not been the perfect ally and with the current situation, a decent job has been done with Kerry-Lugar Bill.
Members of the PML-Q have come out in numbers against the bill, arguing that the Bill is a victory for India and that national sovereignty has been breached. Was it not during their government that the drone attacks started? Was it not recently revealed that while the PML-Q was in power, most of the aid money received was utilized for purposes other than what was agreed upon?
The military establishment has also taken plenty of jabs and uppercuts at the expense of the government. Denouncing in the strongest of terms, the military concluded a meeting of its corps commanders’ showing its displeasure towards the Bill. Some authors have even come out in the public exclaiming that the Bill is a deliberate attempt to undermine the Pakistan Army and the intelligent agencies. The Pakistan Army is a very apt and capable institution along with the Inter Services Intelligence. I highly doubt that such a strong and powerful army would allow the “holder of an important office” to malign and cripple the military. Surprisingly, the Army has claimed “it is [the] parliament that represents the will of the people of Pakistan, which would deliberate on the issue, enabling the government to develop a national response”. Are these not signs of a stronger democracy working in Pakistan?
It seems that most of the criticism oozing out of the Pakistan media is being directed at the language penned down. Many have been offended that the Bill mentions “Quetta and Muridke” as terrorist hubs while others have argued against the inclusion of the US President “develop[ing] a comprehensive interagency regional security strategy to eliminate terrorist threats and close safe havens in Pakistan”. Does it hurt our pride to get assistance in order to eradicate militants and terrorists? Or are such elements too close to heart and it would feel like doing away with family?
Another issue that critics seem to have over used time and time again is the amount of aid that the United States has dispatched. Every so often, we hear a Member of Parliament regurgitate the infamous analogy of the amount of US aid and peanuts. This analogy seems to only remind us of the horrific period we spent under previous military rule when General Zia rejected President Carter’s aid money. It is only fair we stop addressing all aid money as peanuts and work out more viable solutions. When President Obama brought out his ‘Af-Pak’ policy, all hell broke loose. Pakistanis were protesting at the mere suggestion that the country was being examined together with war-torn Afghanistan. Yet, when it comes to aid money, we are the first to swap the number of dollars being received by each country.
Giving credit where it’s due, the Bill does have some salient features that are greatly beneficial for Pakistan. It calls for the United States to actively build mutual trust and confidence and consistently pursue a sustained, long-term, and multifaceted relationship with Pakistan. The main purpose of the Kerry-Lugar Bill looks to provide assistance to Pakistan
- to support expansion of rule of law and capacity building of government institutions;
- to promote sustainable economic development;
- to support the building of democratic institutions;
- to support investment in people, including those displaced in ongoing counterinsurgency operations;
- to strengthen public diplomacy;
- to support Pakistan’s paramount national security needs to fight the ongoing counterinsurgency and improve its border security and control etc
The Bill also reiterates Pakistan’s national policy. We are against nuclear proliferation; we have commitment not to allow our territory to be used for terrorism and we want to remain on path to democracy.
Overall this Bill is similar to a skeleton with little mass on it its bones. Now that the government has thrown the ball in the Parliaments court, it is up to our elected officials to debate it out and make it more presentable to the people of Pakistan. It is highly important however that those who criticize the Bill do not lead the debate towards conspiracy theories and false statements. There are plenty of stories already strolling through various media outlets, leading the debate towards anarchy. This Bill is important in terms of national security, national development and regional progress and should not be shunned away due to previous animosity or fear of the future. A golden opportunity has been given to the Government, the Opposition and the Army to work on a Bill that would be instrumental in turning our future around.