Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday night held urgent consultations with advisers after the Pakistan army came out with a statement expressing serious concern over conditionalities ‘impacting national security' in the US aid bill, popularly known as Kerry-Lugar bill.
With large sections of media, major opposition parties and even the Army ganging up against the US Aid Bill, Zardari feels that it appears to be a conspiracy to malign him in the eyes of the people.
“All this is intended to malign Zardari,” presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told The News, He said the bill did not give an iota of impression that the sovereignty of Pakistan or the supreme national interests had been compromised.
“This is a huge achievement and the presidency strongly and passionately feels that the passage of the bill in the US Congress is a big landmark for Pakistan,” Babar said.
To a question about the rejection of the bill by the government, he said that this was for the government to decide. But he pointed out that Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has already taken a very unambiguous stand on the bill and he has also hailed it. His Tuesday's statement is very clear, he said.
He said that the provisions of the bill about nuclear proliferation, democracy, terrorism etc were in consonance with the declared policies of Pakistan. “There is nothing in the bill that clashes with them.”
Babar said that all the state institutions have publicly declared to support these policies, which are: “democracy should remain on course but be strengthened; we are against nuclear proliferation and have taken several measures on this count; and we are against terrorism and are engaged in eliminating terrorists”.
He said there were “elements” engaged in “off-stage manipulations” so that they continue with the possession of the remote control that they have been using to have control over parliament, the judiciary and other institutions.
Sources close to Zardari have revealed that the President's House has in its possession “credible information”, which identifies the “elements” who are busy in stirring a campaign against the bill with the larger agenda of dumping Zardari after painting him black in the public eye.
These sources indicated that if further pushed to the wall the presidency might make public this information so that these elements were exposed.
The source said that Zardari and Gilani were on the same page on the bill. They discussed the bill in detail when they met after the president's return from his foreign tour, he said, adding that it was after this meeting that Zardari directed the federal ministers to forcefully defend the bill at all forums.
Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif had met Army chief Gen Kayani recently in a late-night meeting in the Army House in Rawalpindi fuelling speculations that the Army is encouraging the opposition to gang up against the bill.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani political equation has suddenly took a disturbing turn on Wednesday as differences between the civilian government and the Army high command surfaced over the Kerry-Lugar Bill.
Confusion in the government and coalition ranks was evident when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in a brief address to the National Assembly, offered to build a consensus between the president and the Army, implicitly admitting that things had suddenly changed.
A panic-stricken presidency went into urgent deliberations late on Wednesday night with PM Gilani, the interior and defence ministers and other main players and cronies.
The first strike against this government position was made by MQM chief Altaf Hussain who stopped short of expressing support and said he had reservations over the bill. Then came the massive blow from the Army chief who told the visiting US military commanders on Tuesday that conditions in the Kerry-Lugar Bill were not acceptable.
The corps commanders' conference officially put the stamp of rejection when the ISPR said this about the bill: “The Kerry-Lugar Bill also came under discussion during the conference. The forum expressed serious concern regarding clauses impacting on the national security. A formal input is being provided to the government.”
“However, in the considered view of the forum, it is parliament, that represents the will of the people of Pakistan, which would deliberate on the issue, enabling the government to develop a national response”, the Army statement said.
The ISPR press release, quoting the COAS, also made a profound statement: “Pakistan is a sovereign state and has all the rights to analyse and respond to the threat in accordance with her own national interests.”
Analysts took this as a rebuff to the Kerry-Lugar Bill, and its sponsors, who had been persistently trying to convince everyone that this bill was in the national interest and should be accepted as such.
Coalition partner MQM has already distanced itself from the bill while the ANP was in two minds and Afrasiab Khattak said a three-member committee had been set up by President Zardari and the ANP would announce its position within 48 hours. But sources said the position would not be what the adamant PPP co-chairman is asking for.