WASHINGTON - President Obama will sign a $7.5 billion aid bill for Pakistan by week's end, the White House said yesterday, after lawmakers crafted a statement to assuage Pakistani concerns that the aid comes with strings that infringe on that country's sovereignty.
Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and coauthor of the bill, insisted that it was being misinterpreted or misunderstood by some in Pakistan's government and military. Still, to alleviate their concerns, he and Rep. Howard Berman (D., Calif.), head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote an explanatory statement to accompany the legislation to the White House and into the Congressional Record.
"I think everybody is on the same page," Kerry said at a news briefing with Berman and Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi. "We are all clear about the intention of the legislation. We've heard very clearly from the foreign minister about the concerns raised in Pakistan over this legislation.
"It also makes absolutely clear," Kerry said, ". . . that the legislation does not seek to compromise Pakistan's sovereignty, does not seek to impinge on the national security interests, or even micromanage any aspect of Pakistan's military or civilian operations."
The bill provides Pakistan $1.5 billion a year for five years for new schools, hospitals, and other development aid. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari hailed the package last week as Pakistan's greatest source of nonmilitary aid.
But the bill infuriated the military and the political opposition in Pakistan and fed into a wave of anti-Americanism. In an extraordinary move last week, the military issued a statement saying it had "serious concern" over the legislation's wording.
The bill would require Pakistan to take action against extremist groups, including the Afghan Taliban leadership, and to work against nuclear proliferation. It also says Pakistan should "cease all support for extremist and terrorist groups," suggesting flatly that it was supporting some now.
As for the military aid, the bill would require the secretary of state to certify that Pakistan is "dismantling terrorist bases of operations."
Pakistani officials objected that the bill also required a "monitoring report" to be submitted to Congress twice a year on a series of benchmarks, including civilian control over the military.
In a country where the army has ruled for most of Pakistan's existence, the military called that unacceptable.
The rumblings in Islamabad caused concern in Washington. U.S. relations with Pakistan are a critical element in whatever strategy Obama chooses in handling the war in Afghanistan.
Qureshi, who was dispatched to Washington to register Pakistan's complaints, appeared satisfied with the statement yesterday. "This document today, which I think is a historic document, is a step forward in our relationship," he said.
Kerry said that the statement did not alter the legislation but that it did clarify the measure's intent. "There are no conditions on Pakistan attached to the authorization of $7.5 billion in non-military aid," the statement reads.