General View from US Changing

Indian Express, June 28, 2006

Pakistan’s military regime might take comfort in the Bush administration’s support for reinstating the $ 300 million in U.S. aid cut by the American Congress due to Pakistan’s inadequate efforts for establishing democracy and respecting human rights.

But the very fact that the House of Representatives voted to cut aid by a 373-34 vote indicates that the phase of unquestioning support for General Pervez Musharraf in Washington is now over. Foreign aid appropriations are often the major foreign policy lever available to the American government’s legislative branch.

Under the U.S. constitution, U.S. Congress is a co-equal branch of government along with the executive, headed by the President, and the judiciary.

Unlike Pakistan where almost all power is concentrated in the hands of the country’s chief executive, who is a uniformed army chief and unelected president, the U.S. system recognizes multiple power centres. While making foreign policy is the prerogative of the U.S. President, budget-making falls within the purview of the Congress. Quite often, Congress draws attention to what it considers as lapses of judgment by the President and his foreign policy team by using its power of the purse.

During the 1980s, Congress showed disapproval of American policy in Central America by barring covert military support for the Contras fighting the left-wing regime in Nicaragua.

The Pressler amendment to the foreign aid bill, which followed the Symington and Glenn amendments, introduced the concerns of Congress about nuclear proliferation into U.S. aid policy. Pakistanis are all too familiar with the consequences of the Pressler amendment coming into effect. But at the time the Pressler amendment was originally approved, Pakistani officials had seen as a reprieve from aid cuts.

Then, the Reagan administration had lobbied heavily in Pakistan’s favour as continuing aid was crucial to ensure Islamabad’s participation in the ongoing anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.

This time, too, the Bush administration will cite the importance of General Musharraf’s support for the war against terrorism to ensure that its quid pro quo aid package remains unaffected. The US ambassador to Islamabad, Ryan Crocker, was quick in reassuring Pakistani officials that there would be no cut to the full amount of aid — $ 3 billion — promised for the five year period ending in 2009.

“We are a democracy,” Crocker was cited as saying. “Congress has its views, but I would like to make very clear that this administration is totally committed to providing the full amount.”

But even if the Bush administration ensures the flow of aid, it cannot ignore the issues cited in the bill that cut the aid.
An overwhelming majority of U.S. congressmen, 373 from both parties to be precise, noted “increasing lack of respect for human rights, especially women’s rights, and the lack of progress for improving democratic governance and the rule of law’’ in Pakistan under General Musharraf.

Only 34 representatives in the U.S. House appeared to buy the Pakistani government’s claim that it was in the process of establishing “genuine democracy.” Even these 34 cannot be said to approve of Musharraf’s domestic policies and could have voted against the bill only because they did not want to embarrass a current American ally.

No Pakistani can celebrate a proposed reduction in the flow of external resources to their homeland. But given the Musharraf regime’s tendency to cite international, particularly American, support to justify its undemocratic domestic policies, it is natural for Pakistani democrats to take heart from the changing mood in Washington.

Pakistan will probably receive the full amount of aid and the Congressional aid cut will most likely be reversed through the intervention of the Bush administration for now.

But the concerns about human rights and democracy expressed by Congress are only likely to continue to grow. The Musharraf regime’s ostensible help in the hunt for international terrorists cannot remain an indefinite excuse for ignoring what is clearly a deteriorating human rights situation.

The suspicious disappearance and subsequent brutal murder of journalist Hayatullah Khan in the federally administered tribal areas highlights a dirty war like those fought against their people in the 1970s and 1980s by Latin American military regimes.
Hayatullah had embarrassed the government by revealing, with pictures, the falsehood of an official claim that an Al-Qaeda member had been killed while making a bomb. The terrorist had, in fact, been hit by a U.S. missile.

An opposition figure, Dr Safdar Sarki of the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM), has been missing for days and one need not agree with his political views to feel the pain of his family.

Incidentally, Dr Sarki is a U.S. citizen and General Musharraf should not have difficulty in figuring out that his disappearance at the hands of Pakistan’s invisible political enforcers is unlikely to endear the Musharraf regime further with the U.S. Congress.