George W. Bush braving security concerns and displaying his Texan machismo made a whirlwind tour of three South Asian countries, the arena of two global flashpoints Kashmir and Afghanistan. The freedom fighters in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir have crossed the threshold of patience and are now determined to extract a pragmatic solution to their campaign. In Karzai land, the Taliban are not letting the government forces stay at peace. While terrorism in these parts is rising to a crescendo, the Danish Cartoon controversy stoked the simmering sentiments of those who blame President Musharraf for all things going wrong in Pakistan. Still, George came to Pakistan. And he brought two important ladies in his life; Spouse Laura and Girl Friday Condi Rice.
From the moment Air Force One landed at the Chaklala Airport in Rawalpindi till his departure in the darkness of the night, Islamabad became an American gringo town rather than the capital of a “democratic” nation of 160 million. Inspite of a massive exhibition of security people, paraphernalia, strategy, and movement, there was lot of tension probably because there was lack of trust in the domestic security network. The visit was of a shorter duration with President Bush welcomed by just a Minister, being whisked away from the Airport, nestling in the safe citadel known as the US Embassy in the Diplomatic Enclave, playing cricket like baseball, getting briefed on the earthquake rehabilitation program, meeting ten “people from cross-section” (Who were they? A banker representing an American financial institution, a woman legislator more famous for her good looks then her legislative skills, another legislator who switched his allegiance when his leader left for Jeddah, the Pepsi Cola man, a scion of one of the richest families, a woman educationist, and maybe a journalist or two, etc), and while there was time, he had a tête-à-tête with President Musharraf, addressed a choreographed press conference giving answers in a non-chalant manner to hackneyed questions, and attending a banquet that was boycotted by opposition leaders who surely must be ruing their decision to meet the Mighty Warrior from the Beltway.
Some critics term his yatra to Pakistan as a casual visit, as merely a stopover, or just to put another notch on his “countries I visited” memo board. Others seem to believe that it was to boost his buddy Musharraf’s morale and to spur him to continue what he has been doing these past many years. Some wondered whether he came to escort Dr A Q Khan to the Guantanamo Bay facilities. Others felt that he came to berate the Pakistani authorities that Islamabad was still not doing much to combat terrorism and that the final grade would be D- unless there is substantial improvement. Many considered him to be the bearer of dismal news from Kabul and New Delhi who ad nauseum accuse Pakistan of cross-border terrorism. Kabul too is now singing a duet with the folks in New Delhi. The optimists among the citizens were demonstrating glee in advance since they were sure the Bilateral Investment Treaty would be signed (after all Bush had waived prohibition contained in the Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act, allowing US exports since this would ease the democratic transition in Pakistan and help combat terrorism), more loans written off, F-16 and F-18 fighter planes would soon be coming to the Air Force base in Sargodha, Pakistani textile products would be given preferential tariff treatment, and Microsoft would be establishing a giant cyber-city in Gwadur.
George W. Bush came to Islamabad to get first hand information on the various points in his global agenda. He came to discuss terrorism and extremism, he came to talk about the Iranian imbroglio, he came to promote his concept of a democratic Pakistan, and he came to determine the country’s vision for a literate and educated population. He also wanted to emphasize the long-term commitment of the United States in the security of Pakistan and acknowledged the contribution this nation has made in the global war on terror. He very candidly stated that the requirements and needs of India and Pakistan were country specific and not region specific. The civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with India is an acceptance of the progress India has made in varied fields. The decisions of President Bush are a manifestation of the ground realities. Both India and Pakistan are strategically important to the United States. Both have their own priorities. This is not a zero-sum game. This is not comparison. This is no equal consideration. This is acceptance of each country’s importance. Period.
One issue that really riles most Pakistanis was the acceptance of India as a nuclear superpower (why not Pakistan or for that matter even Israel?). The signing of the agreement that would provide civilian nuclear cooperation to India has been hailed by many in the US Congress too. Congressman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a senior member of the House International Relations Committee, said, '"President Bush has shown outstanding leadership by transforming US relations with India, which is the world's largest democracy and a key ally in the fight against terrorism. Of the many important issues we work on with India, the issue that is receiving the majority of Congress's attention is the issue of civilian nuclear cooperation.”
President George W. Bush and his entourage came to Pakistan. What more does one want? Things do not just happen at the spur of the moment. He did come, inspite of the Old Glory being torn and burnt in the streets of Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar. He did come, inspite of his effigies being burnt by the mobs on M A Jinnah Road in Karachi, on the Mall in Lahore, and in Saddar in Peshawar. He did come, inspite of many in his Administration who were dead set against any trip to Islamabad. Of course, what he did not do was to emulate George the Englishman. That George traveled all over Pakistan and his journey was weekly televised by Geo TV and who in the last episode walked around the gardens of the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s residence where Shaukat Aziz gave him the good news that 8 out of 10 viewers recommended that George be granted Pakistani citizenship. Alas, in the case of Washington’s head honcho, he never got to go around Pakistan, the Premier was nowhere to be seen, and Florida’s Governor Jeb’s brother never got the Pakistani denizens’ recommendation for citizenship. Yet, notwithstanding all this, one can still say that this nation is also this George’s Pakistan. Hallelujah!