Monday, May 18, 2009

Zardari changed world’s misperceptions about Pakistan

The fear must have compounded when US President Barack Obama said a few days before the visit that “situation in the nuclear-armed Muslim state warrants grave concern”. Few in Pakistan disputed Obama’s concern. Few people gave credit to President Zardari for the remedial measures and a hostile media was on the top. Other political leadership was briefed about the military operation at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani where Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was also present.

The late Bhutto took Parliament into confidence before his all-important visit to India and the people saw that he succeeded in concluding an accord at Shimla which resulted in the retrieving of about 5,000 square kilometres area to Pakistan from the Indian occupation and safe return of about 100,000 prisoners of war, including 95 senior army officers whom India wanted to try for war crimes. This, too, was an important visit and the government preferred to take the political leadership into confidence

Another meaningful outcome of the visit is that the western states have, besides throwing their weight behind Pakistan without hitherto conditional support and thus making a common cause with the people and the government of Pakistan, have softened their stance over how Pakistan should put up its fight against militants and terrorists. The traditional western stress of “do more” has given way to ‘do better’ as has been observed during President Zardari’s meeting with President Obama.

The west’s will for the economic development of the areas producing the Taliban also surfaced during the visit, which saw Pakistan and Afghanistan signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in the presence of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington. The MoU, it is generally believed, promises improvement in trade and economic ties between the two hitherto hostile south Asian states and benefit the two people in the future. As for the US economic assistance for Pakistan, the House of Representatives approved on May 15, a few days after President Zardari had left, an aid of $1.9 billion, over and above the request made by Obama’s administration, for economic stability and fighting militants. The House measures include $597 million in economic assistance, agricultural development, educational uplift, food scarcity and helping around 1.5 million internally displaced people. The government of the United Kingdom has also, besides, economic assistance, committed itself to work out a political and military strategy focusing on the war on terror in a way as to ensure the UK’s military presence on insurgent elements. President Zardari also said after his meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown that the British leadership now “fully shares our perceptions about the war against militants and terrorists”.

In the third leg of his tour, President Zardari reached Paris where France agreed (on May 15) to a wide-ranging civilian nuclear deal on the US-India pattern which promises transfer of nuclear technology to Pakistan and help it purchase nuclear equipment for peaceful purposes. Further talks on this issue will be held in July and France president Nicolas Sarkozy is likely to visit Pakistan in September this year.

However, President Zardari did not take pains in meeting the Republican Party leadership while his stay in the US. Although, former president George W Bush called Zardari on telephone expressing his belief that Pakistan would ultimately defeat militancy in the region, the impact of taking the Republican leadership being formally taken into confidence would have made a greater impact.

It may be pertinent to understand that President Zardari took on the US and European leadership at a time when western states had suffered a shock over the potential of the militants rising to scare the world as a whole. One passing reference before the end may be an interesting reading, although no parallels should be drawn between this visit and the visit of the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to India in 1972. When Bhutto was proceeding to India, he, too, had more fears than hopes. Similarly, it may also be interesting to state that the late Bhutto took his daughter, Benazir Bhutto, with him to Shimla as part of her political training and the world is witness to the fact how successfully she was trained in the political culture of Pakistan. Zardari took with him his son Bilawal, the chairperson of Pakistan People’s Party, to the US and Europe and only he future will tell how he will fair in the country’s politics.

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