U.S. aid to Pakistan: the law of unintended consequences

October 8, 2009

U.S. plans to triple aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year appear to have run rather quickly afoul of the law of unintended consequences – by threatening to create tensions between the government and the army.

The Kerry-Lugar aid bill is meant to bolster Pakistan’s civilian democracy and help the country fight Islamist militants.  But it also stipulates that U.S. military aid will cease if Pakistan does not help fight the militants; seeks Pakistani cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation and provides for an assessment of how effective the civilian government’s control is over the military.

The aid conditions have already been criticised by Pakistan’s opposition parties, and in an unusually public statement, the Pakistan Army added its note of disapproval about what is being seen as unwarranted interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

During a meeting of his top commanders, Pakistan Army chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani noted that ”Pakistan is a sovereign state and has all the rights to analyse and respond to the threat in accordance with her own national interests”, according to the statement.

“Kerry-Lugar bill also came under discussion during the conference,” it said. “The forum expressed serious concern regarding clauses impacting on national security. A formal input is being provided to the government. However, in the considered view of the forum, 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.”

In an editorial, Dawn newspaper cautioned that the row over the Kerry-Lugar bill “is inching worryingly towards becoming a debate about ‘national security’ versus democracy”.

“Right or wrong, wise or unwise, the bill must not become the basis for fresh cleavages between the army and the political opposition on one side and the government on the other,” it said. “The national security–democracy debate is not an either/or issue — national security can and must be protected through the democratic process. Even by Pakistani standards, it is too soon to forget the damage caused by extra-constitutional interventions.”

The Pakistan Army has made it clear it has no intention of taking over the country after former general and president Pervez Musharraf was forced to stand down earlier this year.  But in a country which has spent much of its life under military rule, any hint of political interference by the army tends to be seized upon in Pakistan.

The aid bill, championed by the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, has already been slammed by the main opposition party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as a humiliation for Pakistan.

At a time when the United States is keen for Pakistan to unite to fight Islamist militants, the last thing it needs is for the country to be riven by arguments both between the political parties and between the government of Zardari and the army.

And the other unintended consequence has been to increase resentment against America for what is seen as unwarranted interference.

(Photos: burning the U.S. flag in Peshawar in a protest over the Kerry-Lugar bill; file photo of army chief General Ashfaq Kayani)


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