Trilateral commission meeting
PRESIDENT Obama greeted his visitors to the White House on Wednesday under circumstances not too propitious for the enterprise commonly called the war on terror. For good reasons all three presidents had their minds preoccupied by their own worrying thoughts. A day earlier, scores of civilians, mostly women and children, had been killed by the US air force in northern Afghanistan. How would he explain this bombing on the eve of his meeting with the US president to his expectedly furious electorate - that must be on President Karzai’s mind. President Zardari must be chewing on Obama’s rather unvarnished expression about his ‘fragile’ government and its perceived failure to serve basic needs of his people. And as for President Obama, his new Afghan strategy “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat” al Qaeda and the Taliban is fast acquiring the stigma of a stillborn idea whose time has not yet come - or already passed. Until a more detailed account of Pakistani delegation’s meetings with their American counterparts becomes available what we know of cannot be described as something dramatic or a drastic upturn in the bilateral relations. Pakistan has been asked to increase its interaction with Karzai government in return for five helicopters and an MOU on route for the Afghan transit trade. Expected to be firmed up by the end of the year this transit facility could be available to India as well. Till now Pakistan has refused to grant this right to New Delhi, even when India had already unilaterally granted to Pakistan the status of the Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) and demanded this facility against its grant of MFN to Pakistan.It comes as a surprise also for there was nothing in terms of build-up for this MOU, nor the concerned minister, Makhdoom Amin Faheem, was part of the presidential entourage. As for the drone attacks President Zardari had promised to take it up with President Obama. Unidentified sources have been quoted as telling media that US government would give this issue due consideration but on record it was only an omnibus assurance that the Obama administration would “make every effort to avoid civilian casualties” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Anyway, we would soon see if these attacks are actually stopped or not. President Zardari’s focus on ‘democracy’ was extra sharp. He urged the “oldest and most powerful democracy”, that the United States is, “to nurture democracies in other countries”. Then, he was more specific and direct: “I am here to assure you that we shall share this burden (of fighting terrorism) with you all, for no matter how long it takes and what it takes democracies will deliver. My democracy will deliver”. Alluding to President Obama’s remark that the new Pakistani government failed to deliver President Zardari replied though “democracy was only seven months old in Pakistan” - that is from the time of Presidential election - his government performed better than the dictatorships in the past.