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Pakistanis Balk at U.S. Aid Package
"Not a single Pakistani can accept the [aid legislation] in its current form," said Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League, a leading opposition party.
In a statement issued after a meeting with top military commanders, Kiyani expressed "serious concerns" over the legislation and said that Pakistan had the right to analyze and respond to all threats "in accordance with her own national interests."
For its part, the cash-strapped Pakistani government of President Asif Ali Zardari appears caught between its desire for closer relations with the United States -- and the resources that relationship promises -- and the political liability it entails.
Pressed during the debate, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani said the aid provisions should be discussed "as long as desired" by Parliament. Saying he was closely consulting with the military, Gillani declared that the aid package "is neither a contract signed with the U.S. administration, nor is it binding on Pakistan. It is the legislation of the U.S. Congress, and it is we who have to decide whether to accept it or not."
U.S. and Pakistani officials said that the government was on board with the aid package and that accommodation could be reached with the political opposition. They suggested that the criticism was part of what one senior Pakistani official close to Zardari called an "orchestrated campaign" by elements within Pakistan's military and its intelligence service opposed to civilian control of foreign and defense policies. The army had been "completely briefed" in advance about all elements in the aid package, the official said, describing the military's alarm this week as disingenuous.
Pakistani political analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi said that the language in the legislation could have been "more diplomatic and softer" but that the bill had become a vehicle for unrelated disputes. "If the Pakistani government, the opposition and the military cannot come to a consensus," Rizvi said, "then it is going to create problems for the ties between the U.S. and Pakistan."
The bill, named after its chief sponsors, Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, triples the amount of U.S. economic assistance to Pakistan, which has long been overshadowed by military aid.
Obama was an original sponsor of the measure, first introduced when he served in the Senate, and the bill is the centerpiece of his administration's development efforts in Pakistan. Its passage this year was stalled when House members, recalling a lack of supervision over billions of dollars given to Pakistan during the Bush administration, insisted on stricter monitoring provisions. The version that ultimately emerged from a conference committee and was approved last week mandates regular administration certification that Pakistan is adhering to a wide range of requirements.
Special correspondent Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad and staff writer Ben Pershing in Washington contributed to this report.