Never Ending KL Controversy

By Wasiq Ali

I just read an interesting take on the ‘KLB Controversy’ in an Indian newspaper. According to The Hindu Islamabad correspondent “Pakistan’s costly controversy” has little to do with the actual contents of the Kerry-Lugar bill and more to do with the tussle between the civilian and military branches of the government to assert who is number one. “The entire one-month hysteria in Pakistan over the Bill, after it was already passed by the U.S. Congress, resulted in drastically altering the civil-military balance in favor of the military. It left the democratically elected Pakistan People’s Party-led government considerably weaker than it was. It served to isolate President Asif Ali Zardari, and shattered the nerves of the government. It confirmed the Pakistan Army as numero uno.”

 

And as has been argued by me and others the KL debate also showed “Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) in clearer light. Despite his thunder about the need to keep the military subservient to civilian rule, his party chose to oppose a U.S. Bill that wants exactly this.” The article attacks the Pakistani media’s pro-military bias as well stating that “With some exceptions, the Pakistani media too, despite their pride in opposing military rule, made no bones about which side they were on over this issue, saying the government’s “stupidity” in allowing the U.S. to impose such conditions left them with no choice.”

 

In an interesting twist the article states that for the last 19 months four incidents have taken place in this civil-military battle in which the military has slowly tried to “assert” itself and “erode” the elected government’s authority. “The first battle was for civilian control over the Inter-Services Intelligence, the country’s main intelligence agency. The second was the Mumbai attacks episode. It saw the nation rally round the security establishment rather than the government. The third came on March 16 this year, over President Zardari’s stubborn refusal to restore Chief Justice Ifthikar Chaudhary. The nation as a whole welcomed the Army’s put-down of Mr. Zardari in the matter forcing him to restore Mr. Chaudhary. It confirmed the Army’s pre-eminent role in running the country, and the nation’s acceptance of it. The Kerry-Lugar Bill was the fourth.”

 

The article in The Hindu puts forth a very convincing argument for why there has to have been some vested interest in starting a controversy. “No one — not the opposition, not the media, not the Army — has yet been able to explain convincingly why the Bill became an issue at such a late stage, especially as its contents and passage through the various stages through the two Houses of the U.S. Congress had been in the public realm from at least five months. In their frequent interactions with the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon and the military top brass, the Pakistan government, particularly the Army, never brought up the legislation or its conditions as a concern. If anything, Pakistan wanted Congress to hurry up and pass the Bill.”

 

Then as has been pointed out by many people including myself the “media cast the first stone, painting the legislation as yet another failure of the government, directly blaming President Zardari and the Pakistan Ambassador in Washington, Hussain Haqqani. The PML (N) joined in later, reportedly after a secret meeting between Punjab Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, and Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. It was in the days after this meeting, news of which surfaced soon enough, that the PML (N) raised an outcry over the issue in Parliament and outside. Amid the widespread anti-American and anti-government sentiment, the Pakistan Army’s decision to go public, through a press release, about its “serious concerns” over certain clauses in the legislation, was clearly a populist and political move. It helped to consolidate the Army’s own image — on the rise since the anti-Taliban Swat operation — as the last bastion of Pakistan’s sovereignty and national interests, and showed the government, especially President Zardari, in a poor light by comparison.”

 

A week ago I posted an article by Sadiq Saleem which talked about “the real mystery behind the KL debate.” (http://www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=204829 )As Mr Saleem rightly pointed out “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?”

 

Mr Saleem took issue with some media personalities and right –wing TV anchors “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.”

 

As Mr Saleem’s piece pointed out the opposition political parties seemed to find problems with the bill overnight “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?”

 

I will leave you with a quote from Sadiq Saleem’s piece which will hopefully make you think — “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.”

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