Soon after meeting Vice President Joe Biden, President Zardari is heading to US to take part in the memorial services honoring Richard Holbrooke. This article examines the significance of this visit as Mike Mullen declared Pakistan the epicenter of global terrorism today. Facing dire economic prospects, Pakistan appears all set to pursue a political solution while US demands an operation in North Waziristan to deal with Afghan quagmire.
The memorial service for Richard Holbrooke has turned in to a mini conference of sorts. Not only will the service provide an opportunity to honor his diplomatic services and achievements, but also an occasion for international dignitaries to informally take stock of the Afghan situation. Special representatives for Afghanistan, from many different countries, are attending. Reportedly, Holbrooke used to have a monthly consultation with this group on the situation of Afghanistan. He was also a staunch supporter of Zardari government.
From the point of view US, Zaradri’s visit provides a good opportunity to get his first-hand impression on the situation of Pakistan and its relations with India, including FATA and Afghanistan, and compare it to the military leadership of the country. It would also be interesting to hear his side of the story on the brazen assassination of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer. There is considerable concern in US on how far the religious extremism has spread in Pakistan and what it means for the future of the country.
Zardari travels to US as a much-weakened President. Just a few days ago his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) led coalition government appeared to be falling apart. The only reason it was able to survive was because it made a swift u-turn under political pressure, and reversed the price hikes on fuel it had announced earlier. Furthermore, the fragility of his government means it lacks political clout to muster support for Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST). The IMF, World Bank, and US economic assistance to Pakistan is dependent on the implementation of these provisions. However, these reforms and taxes are highly unpopular in Pakistan. The economy of the country was already reeling from the impact of terrorism, the floods and the energy crisis has nearly crippled the nation’s economy.
In these circumstances, the nations sentiment including that of its military is fast shifting towards a political solution for Afghanistan quagmire and FATA insurgency. A peace initiative supported by Turkey is gaining ground in the region, and as part of this the head of Afghan Peace Committee Burhanuddin Rabbani, recently visited Pakistan. However, US wants Pakistan to take military action in North Waziristan as that would strengthen its position and operations in Afghanistan, and weaken the bargaining leverage of Afghan Taliban.
This difference of premise was also apparent in the media coverage of Joe Biden’s visit to Pakistan. Pakistan’s media bolstered the country has made clear to US that it would no longer accept any Great Game ambitions in Afghanistan, and foreign interference in FATA. Whereas media coverage in US is represented by Mike Mullen’s statement today, stating that Pakistan was the epicenter of global terrorism and that Pakistan Army knows what it has to do to eliminate safe havens.
At this crucial junction of the Afghan war, Pakistan’s military may have decided its time for a political solution, as it can no longer sustain the conflict economically. Before sitting down for talks, US wants Pakistan to carryout the North Waziristan operation and is willing to provide the economic and military assistance the country needs. With anti-American sentiment running high in Pakistan, and economic situation worsening by the day, no government would be able to survive for long if it chooses to disregard public opinion.
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