Obama is arriving in Mumbai on 6th Nov. His three day visit, the longest of his of any foreign country, to SE Asia excludes Pakistan. He has promised a state visit to Pakistan sometime next year. The assurance came at the sidelines of recently concluded strategic dialogue between US and Pakistan, held in Washington. He has also said that President Asif Ali Zardari will be his guest at Oval office early 2011. This invitation is primarily seen as a lifeline and breathing space for the beleaguered president who is under incessant attacks by the hyperactive judiciary and electronic media. Given the past history of American support for military PERFORMANCE FABRIC dictatorships in this country, the rendezvous can be termed at least a pleasant surprise for the PPP-led government. Recently many parliamentarians from the treasury benches including PM Yousaf Raza Gilani openly expressed his apprehensions regarding yet another military coup d’état. In this backdrop we can gauge the importance of the two visits next year for the continuity of democratic dispensation in Pakistan. It is expected that when President Zardari will visit USA, civilian rule will be on top of his agenda. It is generally believed that Americans are more interested in having a stable government in Pakistan than a popular one. Kerry-Lugar bill was the first ever step towards the strengthening of democratic culture in Pakistan, albeit with lot of ifs and buts. President Zardari will try to get assurance that this support should not be interrupted or abrogated altogether again for strategic expediencies. This point is hard to sale for number of reasons.
Starting from the perceived corrupt political hierarchy (though military is no different or at times may even be worst) to the well disciplined command and control within Army and so significant street power to oppose it, Pakistani military is deemed best choice for US administrations when it comes to advancing political and military interests and objectives in the region. Though there is overall drift towards supporting civil liberties and political freedoms (the reason for sudden frequent usage of the term “civil society”) but the dream of a liberal democratic system immune from military interventions is still far away. It will be considered a big achievement of present government if it successfully completes its tenure, though with American support, and takes symbolic steps in the direction of complete civilian control of strategic policies of the country including armed forces and intelligence apparatus of Pakistan. There are visible signs that government is striving and struggling for the aforementioned objectives.
President Zardari’s statement that India is not a threat to Pakistan, presence of Hamid Karzai in the oath taking ceremony of the President and the government directive of putting ISI under control of Interior ministry are few examples of checkered storyboard. There is at least convergence of interest between the two governments in the later objective of laying Pakistani intelligence apparatus under full civilian scrutiny and check and balances. For American’s it means least trouble in Afghanistan and for Pakistan it is about more independent elections and politics. The other important issue which is going to be discussed during the talks between the two presidents is the acute shortage of energy Pakistan is facing, its devastating impact on industries, political cost and the options available.