Friday, 14 January 2011

Zardari meets Obama to ask for more

Zardari meets Obama to ask for more

Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN, Jan 15, 2011, 01.06am IST

:Yousuf Raza Gilani|Richard Holbrooke|Hillary Clinton|Barack Obama|Asif Ali Zardari

WASHINGTON: There was no ceremonial welcome, no state banquet, and no joint presser, not even an opening statement. Pakistan’s beleaguered PresidentAsif Ali Zardari arrived at the White House sans fanfare on Friday to meet US President Obama at a time the two countries are battling an enormous trust deficit despite public protestations of cooperation in combating terrorism.
No one is really quite sure why Zardari is meeting the US President or what he hopes to accomplish, since for all practical purposes, legislative power ostensibly rests with his Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, while real power lies with the country’s military chief Ashfaq Kayani. In fact, Zardari’s US trip is already being pilloried in Pakistan: He is here to attend the memorial service for deceased AfPak envoy Richard Holbrooke after having skipped service for slain Punjab governor and party stalwart Salman Taseer, purportedly because of security considerations.

But the Obama administration appears to be hearing him for form’s sake, since its public position is that it recognizes and encourages Pakistan’s civilian government. The White House schedule listed a no-frills Obama-Zardari meeting at the Oval Office for 11.15 am even as the media was alerted to a briefing at 1 pm by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon — to preview the state visit of China’s President Hu Jintao.

A spiffy Zardari was ushered into the Oval Office by Pakistan ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani to meet the US President, who was accompanied by secretary of state Hillary Clinton. The two leaders were to discuss “aspects of the US-Pakistan strategic partnership, including our mutual commitment to economic reform, support for democracy and good governance, and joint efforts to combat terrorism,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs had told reporters on Thursday, although it is generally acknowledged that the Pakistani military holds the key to the problems in the region.
In fact, in a clear sign that the Obama administration knows where the power center is in Pakistan, various US interlocutors have been painstakingly addressing a lengthy, carping missive written by General Kayani listing Pakistani grievances and security concerns even as they superficially engage the civilian leadership. US vice-president Joseph Biden was the latest to hotfoot it to Pakistan earlier this week to mollify the Pakistani general who has been raging against perceived US slights, its unconcern about Pakistan’s security, and Washington’s dalliance with India.
Despite strenuous US efforts to talk and walk Islamabad and Rawalpindi (the military HQ) back from its obsession of India given Pakistan’s own collapsing internal dynamic and its parlous economic situation, the hard-line Pakistani establishment signalled this week that it was not giving up its prime security paradigm, focused on containing India, by rejecting what it termed a “New Great Game” in Afghanistan. The term is seen as a euphemism for western powers, Russia, and India gaining traction in Afghanistan at the expense of Pakistan and possibly China, which has raised its stakes in the landlocked country.
Ahead of the Obama-Zardari meeting on Friday, Pakistani officials also once again pleaded for an Obama administration role in the Kashmir tangle, although Washington now broadly rejects the proposition that Pakistan’s internal contradictions and strife can be resolved by looking at issues through the India-Pak prism.
A senior US administration official who briefed journalists on background on vice-president Biden’s trip said the “Pakistanis are increasingly coming to the conclusion that extremism writ large is a problem for them” but added that “they have resource constraints,” suggesting that more economic and military aid was in the pipeline.
Although Islamabad, by accounts in its own media and analysts, has done little to reign in terror groups, the official eagerly recognized “a significant effort by Pakistan against a number of extremist groups,” and said “the Pakistanis have moved a significant number of forces from the Indian border.”
“But again, the President said, when we announced the review, that from our perspective, in terms of dealing with the sanctuaries that are affecting Afghanistan, it’s still not enough, and we hope to see more,” the official said, clearly indicating that US was more concerned about the scenario in Afghanistan.
Because of its hold on the US supply route to Afghanistan and western fears of spreading extremism, Pakistan expects to be rewarded financially and strategically, with recognition of its security concerns and regional stakes. Zardari’s trip to the White House is thus seen as an effort to extract more from Washington.
But the general prognosis in Washington for the Zardari-Obama meeting, and indeed for US-Pakistan ties, is bleak, despite public bluster about long-standing ties.
“Given Pakistan’s regional equities and the changing regional dynamics, the international community should abandon optimism that Pakistan can or will change course and should prepare for increasing Islamist violence in the region and beyond,” C Christine Fair, a Georgetown University analyst said in a blunt assessment this week, adding that “years of US policies toward Pakistan based on financial allurements and conventional weaponry have done little to induce change.”
Fair wrote in a paper that “Pakistan’s skill in recasting the historical record in its favour enables the country to extract benefits from the US, which seeks to prove that it is a reliable ally. But given the varying levels of support for militancy within both the Pakistani public and the military and intelligence agencies, Islamabad likely will be unwilling to abandon militancy as a tool of foreign policy and contend with the emergent militant threat ravaging Pakistan and the region.”

Read more: Zardari meets Obama to ask for more – The Times of India

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