Sadiq Saleem: The Real Mystery of the KLB debate

By Sadiq Saleem
This article appeared in The News on October 24, 2009

Now that the orchestrated furore over the KLB aid package for Pakistan is diminishing, it is important to analyze how the country was driven into a frenzy and US-Pakistan relations put at risk by Pakistan’s “Ghairat lobby” and those whose hatred for President Zardari and the current government exceeds their love for Pakistan.

 The real mystery of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill is not its conditions or who may originally have proposed or recommended them. The conditions that have been the cause of much shouting and screaming were included in the House of Representatives’ version of the bill that was passed on June 11, 2009. That bill was widely reported in the domestic and international media. If the reporting requirements in the bill were insulting, or if they infringed upon Pakistan’s national sovereignty, why did not the assorted columnists, politicians and right-wing TV anchor persons make the same noise about these conditions in June that they have been making of late?


Indeed, appropriate reaction in June might have caused those in Congress who want to improve relations with Pakistan but also do not trust Pakistanis to revisit their attitude. The latest furore brought us an explanatory statement, which the Supreme Court of the United States says, has the force of law. Some timely “hungama” in June might have resulted in some actual amendments.


There is something very suspicious about coincidences that link otherwise unconnected people. For example, the day President Obama announced before the Friends of Democratic Pakistan summit in New York sitting next to President Zardari that the US Senate had passed the Kerry Lugar consolidated bill, some of the TV anchors, who 48 hours later turned against the bill, described it as a major achievement for Pakistan. For those who like me believe in checking facts, I would suggest a search for the TV shows of September 24.


The first suggestion that there might be something wrong with the bill came in the form of an article on September 27 by a writer who has been claiming since President Zardari’s election that the establishment hates him and that his days as president are numbered. It was this article that got everyone in the country emotionally charged and became the basis for distortions on TV talk shows. Until then, there was no one who had found a challenge in this bill to Pakistan’s sovereignty or our ubiquitous Ghairat. It seems that the internet connections of the Ghairat lobby were dead between June and the first week of October; otherwise, the original Berman bill with its offensive language would have been read and criticized much earlier. The Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill was approved in its final form by the US House of Representatives on October 1.


Moreover, most of the conditions in the bill had been included in the Annual US aid Bills since 2001. It turned out that among the many things that were insulting for Pakistan in these preceding bills was a reference to Azad Kashmir as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and a virtual acknowledgement that Kashmir was a settled matter because the US government was required to tell Congress that infiltration across the Line of Control into India had stopped.


The question arises why any of the initiators of the recent debate, including columnists, TV anchors and some MNAs from the martial belt, never found out about these past conditionalities and failed to describe them as a surrender of sovereignty or national disaster? Why didn’t the echo chamber of these views on the TV talk shows ever discuss US aid conditionality in preceding years? That there was an echo chamber in the past few weeks is obvious: The man who writes the story or column comes on TV to push his view, the MNA who is also a columnist is the first one to be contacted by the TV anchor who has been railing against the bill, the parliamentarians are quoting the columnist and the anchor, and so on.


Quite clearly, the powers that be were content with receiving aid between 2002 and 2008 without worrying too much about words that did not have teeth. Non-binding findings of the US Congress certainly do not compromise national sovereignty any more than Nawaz Sharif travelling to Washington on July 4, 1999, to get President Clinton’s help in securing a climb-down from Kargil. Indeed, as Major (R) Kamran Shafi has rightly pointed out in an article, since the days of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, there was a willingness to be accommodating of US condescension especially while men in uniform ran Pakistan.


Throughout the orchestrated controversy none of the fuss creators explained to the people that the Kerry-Lugar Bill is not a treaty between Pakistan and the US where all words and phrases have to be agreed upon by Pakistani stake-holders. It is an American law. The Pakistani Foreign Office has already pointed out in a much less publicized news story in this very newspaper that the Pakistani Embassy in Washington had sent as many as 35 telegrams that got circulated to all stakeholders, describing every stage of the Congressional process relating to the Kerry-Lugar aid package.


Why, then, did none of the columnists, anchors and parliamentarians attacking the bill make any effort to write a summary of US Congressional procedures, seek interviews with American constitutional experts or conduct studies of conditionalities in the bills, relating to other US allies (including that very special American ally Israel) to see if this bill was particularly insulting or just represented business as usual for the American Congress?


The Mystery for someone like me, sitting at a distance but with my heart in Pakistan, is how push button words such as sovereignty and honour, coupled with absolute disinformation made their way into identical articles, similar news stories, comparable talk show ranting and emotional statements by some political players.


Another mystery is how leaders of the PML-N and PML-Q both discovered American intrusiveness objectionable almost simultaneously. The two Muslim Leagues followed the Jamaat-e-Islami’s lead as if on cue.


The PML-Q had little leg to stand on, having been in power throughout the period when much more insulting language and intrusive conditions had been inserted into aid packages that went through Congress on an annual basis between 2002 and 2008. The PML-N also had shown no interest in turning down American aid when the offer for this aid was made by Senator Biden and when the House version of the bill was first passed on June 11, 2009. What changed during this period?


Even more mysterious is the manner in which the entire Ghairat lobby in the media, the Zardari haters, select parliamentarians of the two PML factions and the Jamaat-e-Islami strangely discovered extracts from the book by Pakistans Ambassador to the United States that was written and acclaimed 4-5 years ago in a different civil-military environment. Now, what are the chances of Munawar Hasan, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Tariq Azim, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, Khwaja Asif and the right wing TV anchors and Marvi Memon deciding to read the same 5-year old book at the same time? How many books these people read regularly any way and how often do they read the same books?


The first story suggesting a link between Kerry-Lugar conditions and Husain Haqqani’s book ‘Pakistan between Mosque and Military’ was simultaneously run by three totally unconnected reporters–one based in Washington DC, one in New Jersey and one in New York–all on the same day. The next morning, even before bookshops could have opened in Islamabad, copies of the book were floating around the National Assembly and among talk show anchors. Who briefed them all or drew their attention to the book? Why didn’t any journalist care to research what opinions were expressed by reviewers of the book that included one of the current condemners and the foreign policy adviser of the PML-N, who all heaped praise when the book was first published.


So how did so many unconnected people suddenly discover the flaws in the Kerry Lugar Berman Bill, managed to tie it up with a book written five years ago and successfully spread rumours about how the Pakistan Government rather than the US Congress wrote the bill? In the middle of all the noise came the dangerous story about the existence of tapes that confirmed senior Pakistani officials urging Americans to put in anti-military conditions in the bill. Where are these tapes and why hasn’t the reporter who claims to know about them put them on his TV show? Now that is a mystery that needs to be solved. What then was the objective behind the entire ruckus? Was it aimed at undermining civil-military relations or putting US-Pakistan ties under strain or both? Conspiracy theories anyone?

 Sadiq Saleem is a businessman and part-time analyst based inToronto,

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: