WASHINGTON – The Obama administration’s strategy for bolstering Pakistan’s civilian government was shaken Wednesday when political opposition and military leaders there sharply criticized a new U.S. assistance plan as interfering with the country’s sovereignty.
Although President Barack Obama has praised the $7.5 billion, five-year aid program – approved by Congress last week – Pakistani officials have objected to provisions that require U.S. monitoring of everything from how they spend the money to the way the military promotes senior officers.
Their criticism now threatens to complicate the administration’s efforts in the region, where Pakistan’s assistance is seen as crucial to the war in Afghanistan.
“Obviously, it demonstrates we’ve still got work to do,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
On Wednesday, the president convened his top national security officials to discuss policy in Pakistan and its role in the developing strategy in Afghanistan.
With Taliban attacks on U.S. and NATO forces planned and launched from within its borders, an al-Qaida sanctuary in its tribal areas and a nuclear arsenal whose security is of international concern, Pakistan is the most strategically important country in the region.
The Pakistani media reported mounting anger over the aid bill within the military on Tuesday, when Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the army chief, met in Islamabad with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. The bill was described as “insulting and unacceptable” by one publication. On Wednesday, the dispute was the subject of a special debate in the Pakistani parliament.
“Not a single Pakistani can accept the (aid legislation) in its current form,” said Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan of the leading opposition Pakistan Muslim League.
In a statement issued after a meeting with top military commanders, Kiyani expressed “serious concerns” over the legislation and said that Pakistan had the right to analyze and respond to all threats “in accordance with her own national interests.”