Washington, Feb. 23: President George W. Bush is travelling to India with his briefcase full of plans and projects and his agenda for talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is brimming over with items that can barely be handled in a one-day summit.
In stark contrast, he is going to Pakistan with gripe, concerns, warnings and foreboding.
To gloss over this dissonance, Bush’s economic advisers have belatedly added one sop to his agenda in Islamabad: a bilateral investment agreement that is yet to be finalised and is being snagged by impediments, which the Americans hope can be surmounted by March 4 when Bush flies in to meet President Pervez Musharraf.
In his address to the Asia Society yesterday, Bush rolled out item after item that will engage his and Singh’s attention when they meet on March 2:
• Infrastructure development in Afghanistan
• Strengthening their Global Democracy Initiative
• The Doha Round of trade talks at the WTO
• The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate
• The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership which includes the US, Britain, France, Japan and Russia
• HIV/AIDS and bird flu.
The list is long.
But when it came to Pakistan, Bush could only think of “confronting and defeating the terrorists in the war on terror”. If Musharraf had been watching Bush’s speech, or if his ambassador here, General Jehangir Karamat, sent him an honest telegram yesterday, he must have winced.
Bush turned the knife into Musharraf where it hurts most. He said that “in the long run, the only way to defeat the terrorists is through democracy,” which is, of course, in short supply in Pakistan.
“Pakistan still has a distance to travel on the road to democracy, yet it has some fundamental institutions that a democracy requires. Pakistan has a lively and generally free press...Occasionally, there is interference by security forces, but it is a strong press,” Bush said candidly.
Referring to elections that Musharraf has scheduled for next year, Bush said: “This will be an important test of Pakistan’s commitment to democratic reform, and the government in Islamabad must ensure that these elections are open and free and fair.”
In an implicit reference to Pakistan’s madarsas, which are known here as factories which produce a regular supply of jehadis, Bush said: “Young men in Pakistan need a real education that provides the skills required in the 21st-century workplace.”
Raising the issue of discrimination against women, he stressed that “Pakistan needs to improve literacy for its women and help more Pakistani girls have the opportunity to go to school.” Bush was also scathing in his comments about recurring and widespread violence in Pakistan over caricatures of Prophet Mohammad, which have been published in a Danish newspaper.