Turf Wars

Why Pakistan's military hates America's new aid package.

John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

To the surprise of many Americans, Pakistan does not seem too excited at the prospect of receiving U.S. aid. The conditions in the Kerry-Lugar bill, which would provide Pakistan with $7.5 billion in economic aid over the next five years, have been derided by Pakistani opposition parties as "humiliating." The Pakistani daily Dawn even reported that Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, will be replaced due to his role in negotiating the bill. The armed forces are also not too pleased with the assistance package. Last week, the military high command urged the civilian government to review the aid package and the conditions that Islamabad must meet to qualify for receiving financial assistance. The generals would like the government of President Asif Ali Zardari to renegotiate the deal with Washington. If they do not, many in Pakistan think relations between the civilian government and the military might get tense.

The military’s discomfort relates to the conditions in the bill that appear to infringe on aspects of government where it has traditionally held sway. Apparently, Pakistan will have to ensure that it provides information on and possible access to people like A.Q. Khan, the infamous nuclear scientist accused of helping countries such as Libya develop their nuclear weapons programs. It will have to show evidence of eliminating all terrorist networks, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, which are traditionally considered as part of the war in Kashmir rather than the war in Afghanistan. Finally, Islamabad will have to satisfy Washington regarding civilian control of the military. These conditions are bound to make the military uncomfortable because they are seen as affecting issues in the military’s exclusive domain.

 The Kerry-Lugar bill contains conditions pertaining to civilian control over senior-level promotions in the armed forces and control of the military budget, which clearly aim at defanging the military of its ability to keep its affairs away from the eyes of civilian leaders. Many from the larger security community argue that such conditions are intrusive and tantamount to U.S. involvement in Pakistan’s internal affairs. The generals would certainly be uncomfortable with a situation in which relations between Pakistan and the United States developed into a private affair between Washington and Pakistan’s civilian rulers. After all, the only possible mechanism to meet the aforementioned conditionality regarding civilian control will depend on information being provided by Pakistan’s civilian government to the U.S. administration.

The discomfort becomes intense also because the military and some segments of civil society are not comfortable with stronger civilian control of the military at a time when the credibility of the top political leadership appears questionable. Some people fear that Zardari, popularly known at home as Mr. Ten Percent because of his alleged penchant for corruption, would use his power to turn the country into his fiefdom. A Pew Research Center poll released in August found that only 32 percent of Pakistanis held a favorable view of Zardari. For the military, the other candidates for political leadership are also no different.

But this is not the only bone of contention. The generals could also be unhappy about the restrictions placed on their ability to manipulate nonstate actors, especially those militant groups that are used against India. Their possible gripe is that the bill represents a reversal of a previous silent understanding, whereby Pakistan aided the United States in rounding up al Qaeda leaders in return for being allowed to handle the Taliban and certain other militant groups on their own. The references to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad indicate an improvement of India-U.S. relations at the expense of the Pakistan-U.S. alliance. Islamabad fears that Washington has allowed India free reign in Afghanistan, which the latter is using to its advantage against Pakistan. There is also a widespread belief that many Taliban, especially those creating terror in Pakistan, are aided by Indian intelligence.


Islamabad has little experience with tough conditions attached to foreign assistance. The last time there was disagreement on this issue between the United States and Pakistan surrounded the Pressler Amendment, which required annual certification that Pakistan was not developing a nuclear weapon in order to receive foreign assistance from the United States. In October 1990, President George H.W. Bush’s failure to issue this certification led to a U.S. arms embargo of Pakistan.

The Kerry-Lugar bill has come at a time when relations between the two countries have reached a low point. Especially among Pakistan’s military and its allies in civil society, there is already a lot of displeasure over heightened U.S. covert activities in the country. Several incidents have taken place in which U.S. Marines or embassy personnel were allegedly involved in threatening ordinary citizens. In early October, two Dutch citizens who identified themselves as embassy staff were intercepted by the police and weapons were recovered from their car. A U.S. Embassy employee who was in a car trailing the Dutch diplomats subsequently came to their aid. Reportedly, the Central Intelligence Agency has warned the civilian government of heightened covert activities by the United States in Pakistan. To the general public, this appears to be a U.S. bid to treat Pakistan like a banana republic.

In a nutshell, the Kerry-Lugar bill appears to many Pakistanis as a conspiracy between an undependable civilian leader and the United States to minimize the military power of the only Muslim nuclear state. There is an opinion in Pakistan that the "peanuts" offered for Pakistan’s services should be turned down in exchange for greater diplomatic freedom. While no one in Pakistan has a road map for how to replace U.S. aid, the disagreement might convince Washington to step more cautiously, and certainly not on the Pakistani military’s toes.

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