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Kerry-Lugar Bill: Can It Bridge the Trust Deficit? : ALL THINGS PAKISTAN
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Kerry-Lugar Bill: Can It Bridge the Trust Deficit?

Posted on October 6, 2009
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Foreign Relations
Total Views: 36848


Adil Najam

The debate over the US $7.5 billion (over five years) Kerry-Lugar Bill – The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act – passed by the U.S. Senate late September seems to have have generated great confusion, bemusement, anger and frustration. Sometimes, all at the same time.

The headlines in only today’s The News tell us, for example, that the Pakistan Army considers the Bill to be an “insult,” that Pakistan’s Prime Minister sees it as a “big success for democracy,” that India is “upset” about it, and that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is chiding the Bill’s critics to “read the Bill first.” Even as the entrepreneurial classes in both Washington and Islamabad dream up big plans and salivate at impending windfalls, it is difficult to tell whether it is the political pundits in Washington who feel more insulted or the political pundits in Islamabad. Suffice to say, both are seething with anger, even when it is not at all clear why.

The Kerry-Lugar Bill is a five year commitment for up to US $7.5 Billion for developmental assistance, with up to US $ 1.5 Billion available each of the next five years, which amounts to a tripling of the U.S. civilian assistance to Pakistan. Responding to what has been a call of many Pakistanis over many years, it directs this assistance towards civilian, and especially infrastructure, uses and not towards military aid. It also tries to respond to the fears about corruption by the bureaucracy and politicians by asking for strong oversight over use and effectiveness.

So, what is there not to like about the Kerry-Lugar Bill? Speak to the Bill’s proponents in Washington and they will ask you: “Isn’t this exactly what you guys have been asking for all along? More money. Money for civilian development projects. Money that will be accounted for and used properly. So, why aren’t you all dancing in the streets and hugging us in gratitude?” Many Americans are clearly feeling insulted because what they see as a case of their generosity not being appreciated.

For its critics the answer is straight-forward and can be summarized in one word: conditionality. The critic’s wrath is not really about what the Kerry-Lugar Bill promises; it is about what the Kerry-Lugar Bill demands. Call it concerns about sovereignty, about imperialism, about national pride, or whatever else, but many Pakistanis are clearly feeling insulted because they think they have been presented with a ‘bill of demands’ and being asked to sell out cheap.

One can dissect things deep in search of hidden meanings and clues. Too many people are already doing that and it really does not help. The problem is deep. But it is not hidden.

The debate we are now seeing is one more manifestation of the deep deficits of trust that have marked all US-Pakistan relations. In the absence of trust, Pakistanis – even those who might otherwise support this Bill – simply refuse to accept that America could possibly be interested in Pakistan’s interests. For the very same reasons, Americans – even those who strongly wish to see a stronger Pakistan – simply refuse to acknowledge the intensity with which Pakistan has always sought “friends, not masters.”

The fact of the matter is that if the U.S. had any trust whatsoever in the Pakistani state or the Pakistani people, this Bill would not have been crafted in the language it is. By the same token, if Pakistanis had any trust whatsoever in the United States their reaction would not have been what it is even if the Bill were written as it is. The US-Pakistan relationship is a most reluctant international relationship. The Kerry-Lugar Bill is a good example of this. Here is support that the Americans would much rather never have been ‘made’ to give to Pakistan. Here is support that Pakistanis would much rather never have been ‘made’ to accept.

And herein lies the real problem of Pakistan-US relations. Neither trusts the other. Each can give many reasons – and some of them, in each case, are very valid – why, but that matters little. The result is a tainted and reluctant relationship.

When I visit Pakistan, I am often asked: “What do Americans think of Pakistan?” In USA, I am often asked “What do Pakistanis think of America?” The answer to both questions is exactly the same: “They think of you exactly what you think of them. They don’t really like you, they certainly don’t trust you, but right now they think they need you.”

It is no surprise, then, that there is no US-Pakistan ‘relationship’; there are only US-Pakistan transactions.

Here is a Bill that should have been, and still could be, used as a means to build that trust. The trust without which this relationship will forever be tainted, reluctant and prone to constant frustration. If the two sides (and it really is about what both sides do) continue to look at this as a transactional episode – of services provided and paid for – then five years from now Americans will find themselves asking what the point of spending (‘wasting’) all this money was, and Pakistanis would be heard questioning whether they would have been better off never having accepted this largess. Both have been there before and both are likely to end up being there again.

On the other hand, if – and this is as big an ‘if’ as you will ever find in international relations – the two sides really do get past the ugliness in the discourse right now and use this opportunity to move from transactions to a relationship then, as Humphery Bogart said in the movie Casablanca, this could well become “the start of a beautiful friendship.”

But for that to happen, too many things would first have to change in both Islamabad and Washington. At this point, unfortunately, it is not clear at all that either is interested, or capable, of those changes.

76 comments posted

Comment Pages: « 10 9 [8] 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 » Show All

  1. ASAD says:
    October 11th, 2009 11:18 am

    Seems like the first casualty of this whole Bill will be Husain Haqqani!

    Just left a longer message and latest news on this on yor post with the full text of the Kerry-Lugar Bill.

  2. AHR says:
    October 10th, 2009 11:26 pm

    The substance of the Kerry-Lugar is beneficial for the country, now and in the near future. We should criticize the language but not the matter itself. The conditions are not binding on anyone. We do not owe any country anything. It is not a bilateral treaty. Today’s terrorist attacks on the country’s army headquarters just prove that we need assistance in rooting out this menace of terrorism


  3. Riaz Haq says:
    October 10th, 2009 7:49 pm

    It appears that the whole process by which the US aid package has been handled by the US and Pakistani governments is proving to be counterproductive, jeopardizing the chances of peace and stability in the region. Not only has it angered both the military and the public in Pakistan, it has the potential of seriously hurting political stability in Pakistan, further diminishing the chances of economic recovery in the near future, and it is reducing the probability of success against the perpetrators of terror. In sensitive relationships like the one between US and Pakistan, there should have been a lot more quite diplomacy and much less public display of the US pressure and growing presence in Pakistan.

    Rather than further inflame the already explosive situation by unnecessary rhetoric, it is time for both governments to try and salvage the relationship, and their common fight against the terrorists, by engaging in serious damage control on both sides.


  4. Imtiaz says:
    October 10th, 2009 5:23 pm

    Saw this post used as an op-ed in The News.


    Well done ATP and Prof. Najam, this really IS the blog of choice for all Pakistanis and for many including me it is the most reliable and reasonable place where real feelings of real Pakistanis can be read.

  5. Mubashir says:
    October 10th, 2009 2:46 am

    I read almost all comments and it is very difficult for me to claim that the bill is good or bad for us.

    However i shall only state that its true that this bill will surely bring development and prosperity in country but who will suffer from the strings attached to the conditions. US will surely demand an action against militants in Wazirstan and who will fight there? Definitely our army brothers, who will die there? Will their families be in a position to enjoy all the developments made by the aid? Who can gaurantee that the money will be spent for development purposes and not to provide lesiure to the adminstration?

    These questions are still leaving me undecided about the implications of bill. Thats why i put before you to discuss and analyze.

    Mubashir AJK

  6. Adnan Siddiqi says:
    October 10th, 2009 2:09 am

    The role zardari’s regime had to play, it was done by the Army. Army once again cleverly gained score in the eyes of common Pakistanis while stupid democratic government continued toe licking mantra to earn more dollars.

    One can understand why Army is against the bill. Offcourse they will not have free hands for “Ayyashi” in the name of defense budge.

    As it’s quite clear the main purpose of this bill to “take away” nuclear stuff from Pakistan and getrid of Pakistani scientists including AQ Khan, the reaction by so called “patriotic” politicians and Army is quite valid.

    As far as desi Mir Sadiqs like blacksheeps favoring for the bill then it’s quite understandable. A class which has been busy in licking toes of foriengers for 200+ years can’t get rid of slavery at all.

  7. ratee says:
    October 10th, 2009 12:18 am

    Pakistan Army has again protected the nation by standing up against this bill. USA has no option they will have to change the bill because they need Pakistan’s help more than Pakistan needs them at this time. So Pakistan always stand up for your rights!!

    The Pakistani Government does not realize the value of Pakistan and is ready to sell the lives of our people very cheaply. Look how many lives, quality of life and money Pakistan has lost because of doing exactly as the masters in Washington demanded. Enough is enough!!!!

    We need a self respecting Government if there is one available and if this one does not change its direction very soon?

  8. October 9th, 2009 11:49 am

    its quite alarming situation that Army and nation is on one side and President on the other!!
    After giving a firm message to the visiting USA general, Army has played its role!

Comment Pages: « 10 9 [8] 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 » Show All

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