President Zardari, the whole nation and almost the whole world have congratulated you on your ascension to the highest office in our land.
Your political party also controls Parliament and most of the provincial bodies. The Armed Forces have, showing wisdom and loyalty to the Constitution of Pakistan, stayed out of the fray.
Past allies and even competitors have shown political civility towards you. For the first time in recent history of Pakistan there is not a group of politicians sitting outside the tent throwing rocks, claiming the President is illegitimate.
On top of that, you can even leverage your historic domestic opportunity to win advantages for Pakistan on the global affairs scene.
As a Pakistani writer, and later as an American TV and media commentator, I have always loudly complained about the way America and Americans want to see democracy around the world, but American policymakers love to deal with, and support, dictators, especially in Pakistan.
Even in this, fate is on your side, at least at present. As I said during a recent interview on the very popular and influential Fox News Channel, in having you as President of Pakistan, America and American policymakers can get what they both want; a democratically elected Pakistani President with almost dictatorial powers, but without the bad aftertaste of a military regime.
Talking about fate, it seems the alignment of the stars favors you in one more way. Thanks to the foolish, even America-destroying, policies adopted by President George W. Bush, the United States has turned its post September 11, 2001 surplus of global goodwill into a huge deficit. His actions have made and are making America, and my fellow Americans, widely reviled among the very people who once loved us.
Not content with destruction of America’s foreign goodwill, Mr. Bush has also taken the huge economic surplus left by ex-President Bill Clinton, and turned that into a huge, and growing, budget deficit. The result is the weakening of the sole-superpower, the United States of America, and enabling opportunities for other countries to rise up.
That is why puny dictators, like the one in North Korea, can play games of one-upmanship with Bush. It is also why Russia was so easily able to walk right into, and take over, parts of the former Soviet state of Georgia. They did it knowing full well that all Bush could do was send the Darth Vader of American politics, Vice President Dick Cheney scampering to the region. All Cheney could do was try to ensure the remaining states did not start quickly falling in line with the latest Russian expansionism.
What that means for America is the opportunity to work with a democratically elected President (and Prime Minister) of Pakistan, both belonging to the same party, which also enjoys a clear mandate by the nation to solve problems. What that means for Pakistan, under your government, is to exploit your position, not for further personal gain, or to benefit your friends and supporters, but to gain greater benefits for Pakistan and Pakistanis.
When I first heard about it, I thought you were doing well by heading to China, a supposedly stalwart Pakistani ally, but which recently has started building close relations with India. But now I hear that trip may be on hold. I still think you should not ignore China in this manner.
I also think it is imperative that you reach out to the Russians.
I have always been anti-Soviet, and am no fan of Russia or its grand designs. But, at this juncture in time and history, it is imperative for Pakistan to finally, and fully, exploit its geo-strategic opportunities. Former Communist and Socialist states are now more and more Capitalistic, at least in their economies. Therefore, it is even easier for you, and Pakistan, to build relationships with, what I call, a “Commutalist” China and a Resurgent Russia.
Let no one think for a moment that I have forsaken my lifelong disdain for Communism, Socialism and all things Soviet. I actually think Pakistan reaching out to Russia is in the interest of both countries I am citizen of, Pakistan and the United States.
How is that possible? Well, it is long standing US policy to exploit Pakistan as a willing satellite and then to walk away from it to go woo India, for example. Having a Pakistan that can as easily walk into the arms of China and Russia actually will help ensure American policymakers show more wisdom in dealing with Pakistan.
What this enables you to do is leverage the situation and work with America. It lets you gain back the trust we lost in the post-9/11 age. It helps you gain facilities that Pakistan has never enjoyed, despite being a loyal American friend for six decades.
During this time, a supposedly non-aligned, but Soviet-allied, India has gained incredibly huge business benefits. Even worse, it is now getting closer and closer to the United States militarily.
To add insult to an even bigger injury, it is India that is now getting civilian nuclear technology from the Bush government. The lame duck government of General Musharraf had ample time to prevent this terrible decision from being made by the lame duck administration of George W. Bush.
Despite having American policy being totally based on his persona, General Dictator Musharraf, and his lazy cohorts, hardly tried to do more than just get enough funds from America to keep them in power. Even if they did try, they failed miserably to stop India’s brilliant and confident march on to the world stage. India has managed to stand next to the United States as a democracy peer, and one day as a military one too. Even more brilliantly, India has done this without jeopardizing its relationship with the Russians.
What kind of slap in the face, kick in the pants, or punch in the nose does a Pakistani government need to see how quickly, and how effectively, Pakistan is being sidelined on the global stage?
The need of the hour from you, on the world stage, is to show that Pakistan means business; not that ruling Pakistan is just a business.
It is essential to insist that America immediately, sincerely and boldly increase its development aid to Pakistan. But you have to ensure transparency in linking such development funds to specific national level projects, be they dams, power plants or roads and infrastructure in underdeveloped areas of Pakistan. With your mandate, and the powers you are yet to show signs of relinquishing, you can easily push through long-stalled projects essential to national development and even survival.
Insist and demand that American nuclear power companies, with some of the world’s best civilian nuclear technology, be allowed to build, own and operate nuclear power plants in Pakistan. This is mutually beneficial. The American nuclear industry segment, which is very close to the Bush and his interests, gets opportunities to grow their global business. Pakistan gets the fastest possible mechanism for producing cheapest possible energy. And, this gets done while ensuring these civilian energy related nuclear projects do not get bogged down in nuclear non-proliferation issues.
Instead of increasing reliance on aging US-supplied military hardware, especially Zia-era aircraft like the F-16s, you must try to expand the horizons of Pakistan’s defense forces. To build our own capabilities, you must invite and encourage Pakistan’s private sector and technology entrepreneurs to build and provide military grade technologies to our armed forces.
At the same time, Pakistan must make sincere efforts to win America’s trust. You must leverage Pakistan’s geo-strategic location. Your government has to show solid results in the war on terror, which is now “our war” as much as America’s.
Your government should work to help stabilize Afghanistan and earn the right and privilege to be at par with, if not ahead, of the technologies America is giving India.
I can think of many reasons why my fellow Americans must realize that India is a long-term threat to US military and strategic interests in the region. I am sure your brilliant foreign affairs experts can give you many more.
Yet, India has all world powers falling over each other to sell it weapons and give it technology and business. Why can’t Pakistan do the same? Pakistan should reach out to European, Russian and American governments and defense manufacturers to seek the best they have to offer.
To exploit to the fullest the foreign relations opportunities you have been blessed with, I suggest that you reach out to, and visit, the largest powers that impact us directly. You must meet with the leaders of China, Russia, the United States as well as India.
Going to Dubai to take care of any kind of non-strategic, non-mission-critical, or personal business is a bad move. Blowing off China and rushing to our former colonizers in the United Kingdom at their slightest beckoning is a move Pakistan, and your government, will regret in the long run.
My suggestion is still to visit China, Russia, possibly Saudi Arabia. I would also add France, Germany and Japan to the list, while having your experts consider visiting a Muslim country like Malaysia that has done well on the global economic scene.
Yes, later, you should also visit the UK, and the USA and the UAE and any other country that you have an interest in.
But, now is not the time to rush there. When the time is right, when you have established a modicum of Pakistani sovereignty and independence, in the eyes of these countries, only then should you visit them. Believe me, you will find them more respectful and receptive to you if they know you are not rushing to their arms.
Ironically, even then, the loud and clear message you have to carry, as a democratically elected Pakistani President, is best summed in the words of a former dictator.
The people of Pakistan seek relationships with all these countries…. as our “Friends, Not Masters.”