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U.S. Congress Statement To Alleviate Pakistani Concerns

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke to reporters before his U.S. visit.
U.S. Senator John Kerry and other congressional leaders have promised to add an explanatory statement to a new aid bill for Pakistan that has raised concerns in Islamabad.

Speaking after talks between Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and senior U.S. officials on October 13, Kerry, a democrat from Massachusetts, said congressional leaders will release "report language with the force of law" to clear up questions about the aid bill.

Media reports suggest that U.S President Barack Obama will this week sign into law a bill providing Pakistan $7.5 billion in economic aid.

The "Kerry-Lugar bill," co-authored by Senators Kerry and Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) would increase aid to Islamabad to $1.5 billion a year for the next five years. But opposition politicians and sections of the Pakistani media have portrayed it as an attempt by the Obama administration to micromanage Pakistani affairs.

Pakistani military's top brass has publically aired "serious concerns" over parts of the bill, arguing that it would harm national security.

Unlike past U.S. aid programs that largely emphasized military aid, the Kerry-Lugar bill emphasizes societal development and democratization.

After meeting with Qureshi in private, Kerry told reporters that he was glad there was debate in Pakistan over the bill, but that certain misconceptions needed to be cleared up.

"The bill does not have to be changed,” he said. “If there is a misinterpretation, it simply has to be clarified with the same force of law that they have the right to expect. So the foreign minister and I will address that tomorrow with, as I said, consent of the House and the executive department.”

Kerry continued, “We are going to work on that through the day. And I have no question but that we have the ability to reach an understanding that addresses any misperceptions whatsoever."

In Pakistan, the Kerry-Lugar bill was intensely debated last week as Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani summoned Foreign Minister Qureshi from a Washington visit to explain the aid legislation to the Pakistani parliament.

After meetings over the weekend among Pakistani political and military leaders, Qureshi was back on Capitol Hill on October 13.

His return with new demands underscored mistrust over U.S. intentions in Pakistan and exposed the rift between the fragile civilian government and the country's military leadership, which has ruled the nation for more than half of its 62-year history.

Analysts suggest that the military objects to clauses in the bill that link military aid to the Pakistani security force's performance against "terrorists" and Islamabad's cooperation in preventing the proliferation of nuclear technology. They suggest that the military is also unhappy over a provision in the Kerry-Lugar bill that calls for an assessment of the effectiveness of the civilian government's control over the powerful military.

But Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, downplayed such concerns.

"The conditions on certain types of military aid don't require anything of Pakistan that isn't already a stated policy of the government and opposition parties,” Kerry said. He continued, “There is absolutely nothing in this bill related to private security firms or drone attacks or a host of other issues that are being raised by the press. And finally, there is nothing in this bill that impinges on Pakistani sovereignty. Period. End of issue. And we have no intention of doing so."

Faced with countering a tough Taliban insurgency, the civilian coalition government in Islamabad would like to see an amicable resolution to what has now turned into a domestic political crisis.

In Washington, Qureshi said he conveyed to Kerry the concerns in Pakistan's parliament that the United States might encroach on the country's sovereignty, and said those concerns must be addressed.

"I am sure we would want the chairman and his team to look at those concerns; think about them, understand them, and address them," Qureshi said.

Media reports suggest that Congress is expected to issue its statement on October 14, and that President Obama would sign the bill into law before the end of the week.