The latest Economist says that George Bush’s visit Pakistan not only did little to help a ‘beleaguered’ and ‘isolated’ Musharraf but officials in Pakistan have openly admitted that the public fallout of the visit has been “extremely negative” for the regime.
The Economist (print edition Mar 9th 2006)Jilted
George Bush comes and goes. And a nation goes into a sulk
AFTER George Bush's “historic” visit to India, his brief stop in Pakistan on March 3rd-4th was bound to be an anticlimax. But it turned out worse than that. It left Pakistan's large anti-American lobby with plenty of grist to mill into accusations of hypocrisy, fickleness and untrustworthiness. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, champion of the alliance with the United States, and a man Mr Bush calls “my buddy”, found himself looking more beleaguered than ever.
Mr Bush made history in India by rewriting the global rules governing nuclear power and weapons to make an exception for his hosts. Pakistan, which, like India, exploded nuclear bombs in 1998 and has never joined the global non-proliferation regime, is receiving no such favour. Of course, its record on proliferation is so nefarious that this was never on the cards. But there could be no starker example of the higher priority America now attaches to its relations with India.
Pakistani officials argue that, in substance, Mr Bush's visit brought them almost all that had been planned for it. The only failure was in not signing an intended “Bilateral Investment Treaty”, because of some outstanding differences. (So, wags said, India got a great nuclear deal; Pakistan not even a little BIT.)
However, even Tasnim Aslam, who speaks for Pakistan's foreign ministry, concedes that public perception of the visit was “extremely negative”. There was already a long list of popular grievances with America: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and an American air-strike in January inside Pakistan's territory, aimed at alleged terrorists, but also killing civilians. Against this background, big popular demonstrations last month over the publication in Europe of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, whipped up by Pakistan's Islamist parties, were transformed into alarming protests against General Musharraf and America.
In Islamabad, Mr Bush said he had come to see if General Musharraf was as committed as before to bringing “terrorists to justice”. “And he is,” he concluded. Pakistan says it has 80,000 soldiers deployed across the remote, rugged and lawless Afghan border region, where many believe Osama bin Laden to be hiding. But this week has seen a bitter row with the Afghan government. It complained that Pakistan was not doing enough to stop militants from mounting cross-border attacks. General Musharraf furiously made exactly the same accusation in reverse.
So Mr Bush's visit, instead of celebrating Pakistan's staunch friendship and military help, highlighted its ambiguous role in the “war against terrorism”. Just before Mr Bush arrived, a bomb attack on the American consulate in Karachi killed four people. During the president's stay, Pakistan's army was fighting one of its biggest battles yet, in which more than 140 people were killed, against pro-Taliban fighters in the tribal area of North Waziristan, next to Afghanistan.
For America, which says it wants to spread democracy, it is an embarrassment that General Musharraf remains army chief, and has only ever won rigged elections and referendums. So this week the Americans talked about the importance of free and fair elections being held when they are due, in 2007. But the leaders of the two main secular opposition parties remain in exile. The opposition, including even the Islamist parties, say they have had enough of General Musharraf, and are campaigning for a caretaker government to oversee proper elections.
The general himself is also facing a dangerous insurgency in Baluchistan, one of Pakistan's four provinces, and looks rather isolated. Mr Bush, however, offered little help. He made it clear that he would not do much to push India to make concessions on the general's great foreign-policy endeavour: the search for a just settlement of the dispute over Kashmir. From Pakistan's perspective, the peace process with India already looks as though it has stalled. If, as seems increasingly likely, a Pakistan-based group is blamed for the bombings in Varanasi this week (see article), it may now go into reverse