US bounty to Pak splits army, govt

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s parliament will debate a massive US aid package again today, after rifts opened up between the military and the civilian government over strings attached to the funding.

In an unusual public statement late Wednesday, top military commanders including the army chief said they had “serious concerns” about the bill, which hinges some US aid on Pakistan’s efforts to battle Islamist extremism.

US Congress last week voted to triple aid to Pakistan to 7.5 billion dollars over the next five years, part of US President Barack Obama’s plan to battle militancy through development and fostering democratic institutions. The first round of debate yesterday saw PM Yousuf Raza Gilani vow to build national consensus, adding that “our army is pro-democracy and highly professional.” Gilani also spoke with President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani about the issue, after a rebuke earlier from the military. “The forum expressed serious concern regarding clauses impacting on national security. A formal input is being provided to the government,” said a statement issued after a meeting of the military top brass. Kayani “reiterated that Pakistan is a sovereign state and has all the rights to analyse and respond to the threat in accordance with her own national interests,” the statement said.

Ahead of the second day of debate today foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit was at pains to reassure people that the bill did not put any legally-binding requirements on Pakistan.