Continuing Blunders in the Presidency
By Shireen M Mazari
A lot of attention is being paid to Zardari's comments on the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, which undoubtedly may have been an attempt by our woolly-headed president to assert what he regards as his "playboy" credentials par excellence.
Or perhaps he was simply going a step beyond Ms Rehman's facetious remarks made earlier to Ms Palin. But this particular incident was certainly not in the same category as Musharraf's declaration in New York about Pakistani women seeking to be raped to get visas to the West! What is it with our presidents when they arrive in the US? Are they so overwhelmed by being in the vicinity of our new imperial master? Whatever the case, it would appear that more harm than good has come to Pakistan from such visits, and the Zardari visit is yet one more instance of this.
If one can move away from the detracting Palin absurdities of President Zardari, which at best caused Pakistan to suffer, hopefully, only temporary indignity, other actions and statements of the president will certainly have a more lasting negative impact. The most critical is, of course, the joint statement issued after the Zardari-Singh meeting. It is obvious that when Zardari had declared that he would have "good news" on Kashmir, he was referring to good news for India. For that is what the joint statement is all about – unilaterally conceding to Indian demands. If the joint statement is to be a reflection of Pakistan's new policy towards India, it has neither any national consensus nor, therefore, democratic legitimacy.
Worse still, it totally undermines the Pakistani position that progress in all other areas of cooperation must be linked, no matter how tenuously – and in Musharraf's time the link was tenuous – to progress on Kashmir. Pakistan has not been demanding resolution of Kashmir but simply some progress on conflict resolution. Yet, the Zardari-Singh Joint Statement makes no reference even to this aspect of Pakistan's position while agreeing to opening of land trade routes – especially the most stridently demanded by India, the Wagah-Attari route into Pakistan and onwards into Afghanistan and Central Asia. While the intra-Kashmir trade routes may be a CBM of sorts, certainly the land routes across the international border are a unilateral concession, once again, to India. And Mr Zardari seems to be oblivious to the strategic dynamics of conceding the Skardu-Kargil route opening soon for India! It is not that trade should not be removed from the backdoor unaccountable route but giving away land route rights with no quid pro quo is another issue altogether.
Another demand of India's that was conceded to was a commitment to full normalization of relations again without committing to any form of conflict resolution – be it on Kashmir, Siachin or Sir Creek. As for the issue of India's continued violations of the Indus Water Treaty and the blocking of the waters of the Chenab, all that Zardari got was an "assurance" that India would abide by the Treaty!
What a joke, given how it has been violating this treaty to the extent of effectively destroying it. Yet President Zardari was "thankful" because Prime Minister Singh had given his "assurances" on the waters issue. Clearly the president needs to be better educated on Indian "assurances"! Then, as part of the humorous clowning that our president is fast making his trademark, he declared that "we are not afraid of the K (Kashmir) word!" Unfortunately, Mr President, you are truly afraid of the K word lest it derail your dangerous agenda vis-a-vis India!
Even on terrorism, a one-sided concession appeared, with both sides agreeing to hold a special meeting of the Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism this month (October) to address mutual concerns including the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul! First, by accepting to look into this incident, Pakistan has de facto accepted its involvement. But if specifics in third countries were to be identified, then why not include the bombing of our Consulate in Kandahar which followed the Kabul bombing, and RAW's murky role in Balochistan through Afghanistan, etc. Does President Zardari realize the damage done to Pakistan by including the bombing of the Indian mission in Kabul in this way in the Joint Statement? Clearly, if the Musharraf-Vajpayee January 2004 joint declaration's reference to terrorism was damaging for Pakistan, this joint statement goes far beyond in terms of undermining Pakistan's position on a number of issues.
In fact, the slide down unilateral concessions is picking up pace fast thanks to the free-wheeling and non-serious style of President Zardari in conducting foreign relations. His meeting with Bush was embarrassing for any self-respecting Pakistani while the UN speech seemed to be coming from a party leader rather than the President of all Pakistan. It is high time he realizes that, for better or worse, he now represents all Pakistanis not simply the around 30 per cent plus that voted for the PPP.
They say "where ignorance is bliss `tis folly to be wise" but in the case of a president of a sovereign state, ignorance can never be bliss – at least for that country. So it is with this hapless nation. On what basis could our president have declared that "Bush has made the world safer"? Even US strategic allies will not state such an absurdity! Is Zardari totally oblivious of the Iraq invasion, the unleashing of US military force and repression of Muslims through renditions and illegal incarceration in Guantanamo, and the growing space his actions have provided for the spread of Al Qaeda and the spawning of religious extremism across the globe …?
For the first time a Muslim president talked of the Bush-defined axis of evil and how it is growing – now was he actually referring to the same axis of evil Bush refers to which include Pakistan's Muslim state allies like Iran as well as North Korea with which Pakistan has no quarrel? Does President Zardari even know what he is talking about when he makes such bizarre pronouncements? And where are his handlers who can actually do some damage control? Can they not keep their infighting – which was reflected so shabbily in Haqqani's dinner fiasco – at bay in the larger national interest? Or is this deliberate revenge on the Pakistani nation whose leaders kept Zardari incarcerated? After all, look how he used and abused the PML-N leadership – which had incarcerated him in the first place!
How much damage are we going to be subjected to? And how much have we now conceded to the US after this disastrous visit? Even on the one occasion when we had finally decided to act in defense of our sovereignty by firing against US aerial incursions into Pakistan, President Zardari undermined the nationalist posture and resolve by denying any such action on the part of Pakistan. No wonder the US has since resumed invading our territory with impunity after the Zardari assurances! At this rate, it would not be surprising to find concessions having been made on strategic issues also – where it would appear attempts are being made to undermine the watertight security by the ruling party seeking entry of party men into the strategic institutions regardless of qualifications or security clearances. Perhaps there have been so many backdoor deals from the time of the NRO that there is hesitancy on the part of the government to have parliamentary discussions on sensitive issues like terrorism in particular and foreign policy in general.
At the end of the day, one-man rule continues – only the uniform has been replaced by civvies – and blundering pronouncements continue to rule the day. At the very least, our recent history proves that presidential visits to the US should be avoided if we are to retain even a modicum of dignity and sovereignty.
(The writer is a defense analyst)