Written for Internationalopinion.com, July 8, 2003

Musharraf's Visit: Camp David and Praise, But the Real Gains Are Conditional

Yatindra Bhatnagar

Last week Pakistan's military dictator-turned President, General Pervez Musharraf, was the guest of President George Bush at the prestigious Camp David, reserved for special friends. Bush gave Musharraf special attention, addressed him kindly and courteously, as an honored guest, praised him for strong leadership and recognized him as the head of a reliable country in the war against terror. May be all that was a little too generous, but then, you know the President. He could be magnanimous.

This praise was accompanied by the promise of $3 billion in aid, half economic and half military. Looked like a triumphant visit and remarkable gains to raise the stature.

The Pakistani strongman should be grateful for the US gesture and $3 billion "gift."
But a close look, and also the reaction even from Pakistan tell a different tale. The Pakistanis realized, probably sooner than the General, that the gains mean much less than seen with the naked eye. Media, military and politicians' comments were blunt that the package was disappointing, to put it mildly. Musharraf wanted $4 billion, F-16s, and everything today, not in five years. It did not happen.

First the old and persistent request by Pakistan for the American F-16 military fighter jet
aircraft were ignored completely, giving the General quite a bit of heart ache. Secondly, the $3 billion aid packet has conditions the impact of which sank in as soon as it was announced. A significant clarification by the Administration has put the record straight, and Musharraf's importance went flat.

President Bush's public stand of friendship toward the Pakistani dictator was criticized by well-meaning newspapers, as it should be. However, the fact is that it was a public posture, and not reality. The truth is that the United States knows very well that Pakistan is not a reliable ally in the war against terrorism, Islamic terrorism. Also that Pakistan is the largest safe haven for terrorists and their leaders, Talibans, and other Arab terror groups, that might include Osama bin Laden.

Also, the US Administration and The White House are very much aware that despite repeated assertions and promises, Pakistan has not ended cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. They know that without Pakistan's active connivance, training-funding-arming-exporting of the terrorists across the borders, the proxy war against India could not continue.

The situation being such, there are conditions attached to the aid packet and that tell the story of how much of a trusted ally Islamabad is, and how much real gains Musharraf made in his visit. Though the US does not want to call them "conditions" but as a government spokesman said quite frankly that we should be "realistic;" in three years down the road if it is seen that Pakistan is not doing enough, we will not ask Congress for the money.

Musharraf might have received standing ovation at meetings he addressed, and the media coverage he managed, but the real gains are unreal and couched in "conditions" that tell what the US thinks about Pakistan and its military man. And there is not one, but three clear "conditions" attached to the package.

The "conditions" are: 1. Pakistan should stop terrorism; 2. Work on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and; 3. Work for speedy democratization of the country.

A tall order indeed.

In any case, Pakistan will not get the whole package right away. Not the whole of the $3 billion. That is phased out up to five years. That takes away all the shine off the package. The Congress has to appropriate the money, in a phased manner.

1. Ending terrorism: Musharraf has been making promises and giving assurances to end terrorism and all support to terrorism. The US Administration will satisfy itself if the promises are being kept. In the recent past, despite repeated promises and assurances, cross-border terrorism to India continues. In addition, the campaign against terror groups, inside Pakistan, does not have the full backing and solid support from Pakistan's ISI and armed forces.

Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, if not dead, are still in hiding in or around Pakistan; so are top leaders of the Talibans and many of Al Qaeda. Pakistan bans some terror groups, arrests several terrorists; the groups change their names and the terrorists are released. This is an on-going game and the US is sick of it.

2. Non-Proliferation: The US, and the whole world knows that Pakistan's nuclear bombs, and some technology, were "gifted" to it by China whose weapons program itself is suspect. Pakistan also has been actively collaborating with North Korea, another rogue state and a part of the original Axis of Evil, as described by President Bush. The United States insists that Pakistan better behave and effectively curb its ambitions to be a nuclear power or major dealer in sophisticated arms.

This matter has become more disturbing following the arrogant, and irresponsible statement of Musharraf, last month, that Islamabad will have to depend on its nuclear deterrent. He was opposing the sale of weapons and weapon systems to India, which he complained would upset the "balance." America knows that there cannot be a balance between India and Pakistan. There is a huge difference between the two countries in size, challenges, importance and potential.

3. Restoration of Democracy: The US is tolerating a military man who usurped power by ousting an elected government, but that is all temporary. America is committed to help bring democracy in Pakistan and the General has been plainly told to speed up the process to restore democracy.

The US leadership, obviously, acknowledges the fact that the big body of countries known as the Commonwealth of Nations (Britain, India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore included), has still not taken Pakistan back in its fold after that country was expelled following the military coup by Musharraf. The organization with 50 plus countries is a political and moral force with significant clout, unlike the much bigger Non-Aligned Group that is practically dead.

The Commonwealth wants restoration of democracy in Pakistan and, along with the US, is not satisfied with the "democratic experiment and elections" Musharraf has staging. It also has no faith in the results of the bogus referendum that Musharraf engineered to give legitimacy to his presidency.

So General Musharraf, thank your stars that you did not have to suffer more humiliation. Don't expect that Pakistan could ever be equated with India - the peaceful, economic and military super power-in-the-making. For your information, the recent confirmed news is that India has become a donor nation in the International Monetary Fund, the lender where you have always to go with a begging bowl.

Gen. Musharraf, your US visit (and before that your visit to UK) should convince you that India is far more important to the United States and the free world because of its huge skilled manpower, its strong democratic traditions, and its tremendous economic and industrial base, among a host of other reasons.

Yatindra Bhatnagar, journalist-author-poet, has worked for print and broadcast media for more than five decades. He has written over 21 books on a wide variety of subjects. He has his website Internationalopinion.com for which he writes regularly.