By Roxana Tiron and J. Taylor Rushing - 10/14/09 12:27 AM EDT
Conditions attached to the aid have spurred charges from that country’s military that the democratically elected government, which replaced a military regime, is handing away Pakistan’s national sovereignty with the bill.
President Barack Obama is expected to replicate the conciliatory tone coming from Congress as early as Wednesday during a signing statement for the aid bill.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Kerry’s House counterpart, both met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Hussain Qureshi to discuss the issue. Qureshi came to Washington on a mission to air Pakistan’s concerns over how conditions included in the aid bill are being interpreted in his country.
Kerry said that additional clarification will be detailed in a House-Senate statement aimed at explaining the legislative intent behind the bill.
Kerry stressed on Tuesday that there are no conditions on Pakistan attached to the $7.5 billion in nonmilitary aid.
“There are strict measures of financial accountability that Congress imposes on the U.S. executive branch to make sure that money being spent is the way that Congress intended,” he said. “That is a relationship between us and our own executive department.”
The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 authorizes $7.5 billion in nonmilitary aid to Pakistan over the next five years, with $1.5 billion to be appropriated each year.
The bill calls for U.S. officials to verify periodically that Pakistan is continuing to cooperate with the United States in dismantling nuclear weapons supplier networks and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. U.S. officials must also ensure Pakistan is cracking down on Taliban- and al Qaeda-linked militants and the support they may receive from the Pakistani military and its intelligence agency and preventing them from plotting attacks outside of Pakistan. It also calls for verification that Pakistan’s security forces are not subverting the country’s political and judicial processes.
Congress passed the bill in September, after some careful negotiations between the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Obama administration contributed to those talks.
Despite those efforts, some of Pakistan’s military commanders have expressed concern about the bill’s clauses, which they say affect Pakistan’s national security and sovereignty.
Military leaders were briefed on the terms of the aid legislation already in summer, but only started expressing concern after the House and Senate passed the bill.
The dispute over the aid package reflects the strains between the fragile civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari and the military. Pakistan has been subject to military rule for about half of its history as an independent country.
The foreign minister’s rush visit to Washington also comes amid rumors that Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, is on his way out as a result of the furor over the aid package.
Some Pakistani media even went so far as to blame the condition language on a book Haqqani wrote as a scholar in 2006, titled Pakistan Between Mosque and Military.
Haqqani refuted the rumors about his replacement as ambassador.
“I serve at the pleasure of the president and prime minister of Pakistan and have not been asked to do anything other than to continue my work on behalf of the people of Pakistan,” Haqqani said in a statement to The Hill.
Pakistan’s embassy has worked hard to secure the aid package, a lobbyist for the embassy said.
“The embassy has overcome a lot of skepticism and opposition in Congress and will continue to advance Pakistan’s interests, and in securing development as well as security assistance,” said Mark Siegel, a partner at Locke Lord Strategies.
“There is nothing in this bill that impinges on Pakistani sovereignty. Period. End of issue,” he said. “And we have no intention of doing so. The foreign minister could not have been more clear about that concern, so we will reach even further in the course of the next 24 hours to make certain we address those concerns that the U.S has no intent to micromanage.”
Supporters of the Pakistan aid package are concerned that the tug-of-war over the bill could send the wrong signals to congressional appropriators who still have to approve the $1.5 billion that Congress has authorized for 2010. At a time of economic crisis, increased criticism of the bill could lead them to appropriate the money for U.S. domestic causes instead of for Pakistan’s schools, roads and hospitals.