Democratic Forces of Sindh welcome the Kerry-Lugar Bill

Sindh Democratic Forum (SDF)

Press Conference : Gentlemen, a raging debate has started in the country about the about the contents of the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Electronic media has especially had a field day and so has the print media which is also plastered with the news of the Bill on daily basis.

Most of you know what the Kerry-Lugar Bill is. It started as enhanced partnership with Pakistan Act 2009. It was initiated in the Senate on 6th Jan 2009. Later Breman Bill pertaining to aid to Pakistan was amalgamated and the Bill was passed by the Senate on 24th June 2009. The Bill was then further revised and the final version was passed on September 24th by the Senate and on 30th September by the US Congress. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar have worked extremely hard to pilot the Bill through both US houses and to get it passed. The Bill is therefore named after them.

The most noteworthy point in the Bill is that it is oriented to the people of Pakistan and democracy and not its government or military. In the very beginning of the bill in the section “Findings” support for Pakistan’s nascent democracy comes first, then comes the economic development of people and then, at the third stage comes the clauses regarding counterterrorism etc. In the next section, that is, the “Policy Statement” also democracy gets precedence, next comes economic development and then the fight against terrorism and extremism.

This is a new, and welcome change in the American attitude towards the people of Pakistan. In all previous protocols with Pakistan the United States tilted heavily towards security related measures and therefore relied on the army and strong armed dictators who ruled Pakistan then. This attitude of the US helped the dictators who had come to power by toppling civilian elected governments and gave them strength and international acceptance, who then went on to further stifle democracy and the will of the people of Pakistan. People of Pakistan were therefore rightly skeptical about the US policies and accompanying US aid. People of Pakistan suffered, but the people of Sindh suffered the most under such a policy. People of Sindh are democratic and secular in nature. Their representation in the armed forces has been kept minimal under a well thought out plan. They have therefore no representation in the army and during army rule they are excluded from decision making.

All the decisions of national importance of the Zia-ul-Haq era and the Musharraf period that have given us guns, heroin, militancy and religious extremism which have become the hallmark of Pakistan and which have not engulfed the country in a fight for its very existence, are a gift of both these dictators who were sustained by US policies towards Pakistan.

It is sad that the corps commanders have raised objection to the language of the Bill. The Sindh Democratic Forum has gone through the final version of the Bill very carefully and it considers that the objections are misplaced. Let me be more specific.

In section 203 of Title II, Security Assistance for Pakistan, under the clause, “Limitation of Certain Assistance”, the Secretary of State of the US is to certify, after consultation with Secretary of Defence and National Security Advisor that the security forces of Pakistan are

1. Are making concerted efforts to prevent Al-Qaida and associated terrorist groups from operating in the territory of Pakistan.

2. Are making concerted efforts to prevent Taliban… from using the territory of Pakistan… to launch attacks within Afghanistan.

3. The security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial process of Pakistan.

Then there is Section 302 of the Title III, “Strategy , Accountability, Monitoring and other Provisions”, in which there is a long list of measures that are to be reported (not certified) to the appropriate congressional committees. Most of them are about counterterrorism, one is about the aid not being directed to acquiring nuclear and another about nuclear non-proliferation. However at 15 is a clause which I need to inform you about. It says that (the congressional committees be informed) an assessment of the extent to which the government of Pakistan exercises effective civilian control of the military, including a description of the extent to which civilian executive leaders and parliament exercise oversight and approval of military budgets, the chain of command, process of promotion for senior military leaders, civilian involvement in strategic guidance and military involvement in civil administration.

We think that all of these points must be given a dispassionate thought by the civil society, the media, the parliament and also the military itself.

It is a long standing demand of the whole country that the military budget must come under scrutiny in the parliament. After all 30% of our taxes that is about Rs. 350 billion are eaten up by the armed forces in their upkeep, salaries and pension. Not all of this amount is spent judiciously. Presently even the non-defense related expenditure is not made public. The audit of such expenditure has indicated enormous waste. Therefore such demand is not only the demand of Kerry-Lugar Bill but also the whole nation of Pakistan.

There can be no two views about military involvement of civilian affairs. After the disasters of the last 30 years the people of Pakistan have had more than enough of the military’s rule. The military itself is suffering enormous casualties because of the follies of Zial-ul-Haq’s policies. So far the promotions of senior military officers are concerned and the matter of the chain of command, it can only be said that there must be a serious flaw in the way military commanders reach senior level. We know now what material Yahya Khan and his corps commanders were made of in those days Pakistan lost its East Wing and we had to face the unprecedented humiliation of 90,000 prisoners of war.

Zia-ul-Haq and his corps of commander’s disastrous policies are still haunting the country and the army itself. He had to be blown out of the sky from a military base to get rid of him. No bet on who was involved.

In the last rule of Musharraf and his corps commanders we had the most senseless adventure of all time – Kargil. We lost 2000 jawans. In retaliation of Kargil when the Indians mobilized their troops we had to mobilize ours, spending more than Rs. 30 billion and also helping the hard-line BJP win an election. In the end the Prime Minister of Pakistan had to beg for a step down before an American President, after promising that the Pakistan’s territory will not be used again for terrorist attacks on India.

If so many corps commanders make so many blunders at so many occasions pushing the people of Pakistan in such shame and such catastrophe there must be a serious problem with the selection of senior army commanders.

A word about the chain of command what is the good of the present chain of command if the same commander keeps giving himself extensions for years on end while no one in the corps dares to oppose him? This is exactly what was done by Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf.

We believe that the Chief of the Army Staff has rightly said that all these matters must be decided by the parliament who should develop a methodology for the chain of command and also for the promotion of the senior commanders of the armed forces.

We in SDF and all the people of Sindh stand for democracy. We agree with the Kerry-Lugar Bill that democracy and rule of law must get precedence over everything else.

I would like to inform you, and through you and all Pakistani people and all liberal and progressive people around the world that Sindhi people are democratic and secular. They do not have the sins for which Pakistan has earned a bad name around the world.

For example Pakistan is infamous for trade in narcotics but the Sindhi people are not part of this ignoble trade. Pakistan is dishonored by the hordes of illegal immigrants but the Sindhi people are not part of that dishonor. Pakistan is notorious for its Jihadis and suicide bombers but Sindhi people are not part of religious extremism. Sindhi people deserve far better than what they are getting now.

We wish to declare that Sindhi people will stand only and only for democracy and rule of law howsoever defective it may be.

We welcome the Kerry-Lugar Bill because it calls for strengthening democracy, welfare of the people and Parliaments control over the armed forces.

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