Pro- and Anti-Government Groups Clash in Washington

Dr Nasim Ashraf (left) and Kashmala Tariq

Washington, DC: Pro- and anti-government forces clashed on Capitol Hill last Wednesday, a day before a crucial US Senate hearing to consider whether America’s pro-democracy laws should be applied to curtail US aid to Pakistan. “We understand that you are upset with recent developments in the country,” said President Pervez Musharraf’s special envoy Dr Nasim Ashraf while addressing a select group of Pakistani-Americans at the embassy. “But do not take your anger to the Hill.” “That is precisely what we need to do,” said Dr Zafar Iqbal, a physician who heads the Asian American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights. “We need to take the case to the Hill and urge the members of Congress to support the people, not an individual.” Dr Ashraf and two other envoys, Kashmala Tariq and Mohammed Ali Saif, who have come to the US to present the government’s case on the emergency, fear that taking the matter to the Hill could lead to a reduction in US aid to Pakistan. “And if that happens, we are all going to regret it,” said Dr Ashraf. “I was shocked and ashamed to see that our own Pakistanis are participating in this campaign,” said Ms Tariq. Both pro- and anti-government groups arranged two separate meetings on the Hill and both spent the whole week trying to rope in as many US lawmakers to their gathering as possible. The pro-democracy groups want the US Congress to back a proposal put forth by Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which urges the administration to triple non-security aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for at least a decade. It also offers a “democracy dividend”: the first year of democratic rule bringing an additional $1 billion – above the $1.5 billion non-security aid baseline. But future non-security aid will be tied to Pakistan’s progress in developing democratic institutions and meeting good-governance norms. The proposal calls for strict restrictions on US military aid to the country if President Musharraf does not restore democracy. “We strongly support this proposal,” said Dr Iqbal. “The aid should encourage democracy, not despotic rule.” Pro-democracy groups also distributed a study by the International Crisis Group, an EU-backed NGO which calls for conditioning non-counter-terrorism US aid to democracy. The group also calls for more aid for fighting poverty and improving health and education facilities and less for the military. “We will regret what we are doing if such measures are adopted,” said Dr Ashraf. “With friends like these, Pakistan does not need enemies,” added Ms Tariq. But their rhetoric had little impact on a select group of Pakistani-Americans the embassy had gathered for them to address. After the speeches, the audience surrounded the speakers asking them to explain why the government had to impose emergency rule, sack the judges, and place unprecedented curbs on the media. The envoys blamed the former Chief Justice and the Supreme Court for plunging Pakistan into the present crisis. But they referred to five earlier judgments by the same court to justify the 1999 military takeover, the holding of two offices by Mr. Musharraf and his other decisions. “So, it is OK for the court to give decisions that favor the government and not that go against it,” asked someone from the audience. (Courtesy Dawn)

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