Pakistani official calls US aid crucial
Military wary of influence tied to money
WASHINGTON - Pakistan’s foreign minister said yesterday that a proposed multibillion-dollar US aid package is crucial to Islamabad’s efforts to fight terrorists.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi played down a statement by Pakistan’s military that it had serious concerns about US aid that is seen by many in his country as a sign of American meddling. He called the assistance the “first, very strong signal of a long-term commitment with the people of Pakistan.’’
Qureshi also told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations that Pakistan and the United States should strengthen consultations as the Obama administration decides whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.
The US aid bill would provide Pakistan with $1.5 billion a year over the next five years to spend on democratic, economic, and social development programs. It also allows “such sums as may be necessary’’ for military aid, subject to special conditions related to Pakistan’s fight against militants who have wreaked havoc in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s military, in an unusual public statement yesterday, expressed serious concern about the bill - comments that could bolster opponents of the weak US-backed civilian administration in Islamabad.
The aid bill, US officials say, is meant to alleviate widespread poverty. But many Pakistanis see it as a sign of unwanted US influence.
A State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, said the bill has consultation and monitoring mechanisms that are “in no way intended to impinge on Pakistan’s sovereignty.’’
“A lot of the concern has been because we are really ramping up our assistance program,’’ Kelly said.
Qureshi said that key backers of the bill, Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, and Richard Lugar, a Republican, assured him Tuesday that the economic aid has no conditions attached.
He said criticism of the aid in Pakistan is part of the “beauty of a democracy,’’ where differing points of view are natural.
On US worries that Pakistan would not spend huge amounts of aid properly, he said it is in his country’s interest to make sure the money goes where it is supposed to go. Pakistan must have strong infrastructure and education, he said, to destroy terrorists and become a stable, peaceful country.
Qureshi has met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top US officials during his trip to Washington, which comes as President Obama reviews whether to accept a push by US military commanders for more troops in Afghanistan.
Qureshi called for better coordination on the Afghan side.
Generally, he said, there must be more trust between Pakistan and the United States, which has long pushed for Islamabad to do more in fighting extremists.
“If you keep doubting our intentions, and we keep doubting your intentions, then where is this partnership going?’’ Qureshi asked.
Yesterday, Pakistan’s powerful military, preparing for a new offensive against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, expressed “serious concern’’ about the aid package that some consider an avenue to American meddling.
The statement opens a rift with the weak US-backed civilian administration in Islamabad and bolsters opposition leaders. It also appears intended to show the Pakistani people that their army is not taking orders from Washington.
To many here, the conditions attached to the aid are a sign of growing, and unwanted, US influence in Pakistan.
The worries are burnished by a media-fueled backlash over US plans to add hundreds more embassy staff in Islamabad. American officials say the staff are needed to disburse and monitor the aid.
“The question in Pakistani minds is: ‘Is so much intrusion worth what we will be getting?’ ’’ said Ayaz Amir, a journalist and member of parliament with the Pakistan Muslim League-N, the largest opposition party. “Once we accept the terms of this bill and we start receiving aid under it, already great American influence will grow.’’
A Parliament discussion of the issue began on a fiery note last night, with PML-N lawmaker Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan contending that “each and every page of the bill is reflective of the insulting attitude towards Pakistan.’’
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was more conciliatory, telling Parliament the government would look into the concerns, and had not yet agreed to accept the money.
“We have not done anything so far without consensus and we will develop consensus on this too,’’ he said.