U.S. aid conditions irk Pakistani army

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's army said Wednesday that it has "serious concern" over conditions attached to a $1.5 billion-a-year U.S. aid package that Congress approved last month, marking a serious rupture in relations with Washington just before a planned military operation against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

The dispute pits Pakistan's powerful army against the fragile civilian government of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which has championed the U.S. assistance deal. Pakistan's political opposition also opposes the aid legislation, which awaits President Obama's signature.

The aid bill, sponsored in the Senate by Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry and Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, was meant to improve the U.S. image in Pakistan. It requires monitoring and certification of Pakistan's action against terrorism and requires the country to work to prevent nuclear proliferation and show that its military isn't interfering in Pakistani politics.

"Everyone wants aid. The problem is the conditions, which are tantamount to holding Pakistan hostage to U.S. designs," said Marvi Memon, an opposition member of parliament. "This is a complete affront to national sovereignty."

The furor appears to have caught the Obama administration by surprise and threatened the basis of its Pakistan policy, which aims to bolster the civilian government, provide aid to ordinary people in Pakistan and push for action against Islamic extremism. By contrast, the Bush administration backed a military leader in Pakistan and focused aid on the military.

The Pakistani military has said that within days it will launch an offensive in Pakistan's Waziristan region, the heart of the nation's Islamic insurgency and a refuge for Afghan insurgents and Osama bin Laden's terror group. Washington has long urged Islamabad to take control of Waziristan, an ungoverned territory on the border with Afghanistan that's almost entirely controlled by militants.

Obama met with his senior national security advisers Wednesday to discuss strategy toward Pakistan, the latest in a series of White House sessions on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With the Pakistani military now joining the parliamentary opposition in hostility to the aid bill, however, there was speculation that the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari could fall. Pakistan was already in the grip of a rising wave of anti-Americanism.

The army's top officers met to discuss the legislation at a corps commanders' conference at the military headquarters at Rawalpindi.