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Politics & Policy

Pervez Musharraf visits US

It is rightly being viewed as making the start of a new phase in the chequered history Pak-US ties

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI
Feb-18   24, 2002

It is admitted by all that the US could not have succeeded to achieve its objectives from its operation in Afghanistan without the cooperation and help of Pakistan.

The significance of President Musharraf's 3-day official visit to the United States lies in a host of developments that have taken place at the regional and international levels since the Sept. 11 mayhem. It is rightly being viewed as making the start of a new phase in the chequered history Pak-US ties. The two sides seem keen to develop a long term partnership this time around by forging a closer and more substantive ties in economic and defence fields.

The US Deputy Treasury Secretary, Kenneth Dam, who led a five-member official delegation on a two-day visit to Pakistan, told a press conference in Islamabad last week before calling on President General Pervez Musharraf that his department was engaged in the preparation of a package of economic assistance and other facilities with a view to supporting the efforts of the government of Pakistan for boosting economic activity in the country and thereby overcoming the present difficulties in the way of economic revival. He declined to disclose any details of the upcoming economic package for Pakistan and indicated that President George W. Bush would discuss the same with President Pervez Musharraf during the course of his visit to the US next week. Kenneth Dam at the same time expressed his satisfaction over the policy reforms which were being pursued by the government in different spheres of economic management.

The earmarking of $51 million for Military financing out of a proposed $350 million package collected together for Pakistan by the Bush administration only a few days ahead of President Musharraf visit indicate a clear defence dimension of the renewed partnership between the two countries in the context of US led war on terrorism. The timing of lifting the "democracy sanctions" coupled with praise president Musharraf has received since making Pakistan a key ally in the west's war against terrorism reflects the pragmatic nature of Pak-US relationship.

It may be recalled that Pakistan is waiting since September 11 for implementation of the concessions that US government had promised to extend in several economic fields, including abolition of tariff on a number of items which are exported from Pakistan to the USA, notably the textile items. Additionally the US government had also promised expansion of textile quota imports from Pakistan on the pattern of the policy announced last year by the European Union. It may be mentioned here that Pakistan's Commerce and Industry Minister Abdul Razzak Dawood had initiated this move with the US treasury department a couple of months before the September 11 events. Pakistan's decision to join the US-led coalition in its war against terrorists in Afghanistan further strengthened its case for obtaining a better economic tariff with enhanced concessions.

Although Pakistan has received a cash grant of $600 million from the US government, the proposed broad-based package of economic assistance to this country is still awaited. The adverse effect of this delay is a slow-down in Pakistan's exports to the USA. In the first place, the containers with consignments of number of textile items to that country were reportedly held up over the last five months for the purpose of scrutiny by the customs department in that country. Cancellation of export orders from the US buyers for Pakistani goods was yet another problem faced by the exporters. In consequence, Pakistan's export growth has suffered badly during the last five months. It is expected that the proposed US package of economic assistance to Pakistan would help solve the above problems to a great extent and exports from Pakistan to US markets would stabilize. Therefore, the earlier this package is announced the better it will be.

An important dimension of Musharraf's visit is the shadow of a conventional conflict hanging over the region in the wake of massive Indian troop buildup on Pakistan's border. Secretary Colin Powell and CIA Chief George Tenet have both warned of a possible nuclear showdown as well. But, surprisingly, the recent statements by Powell and other administration highups seem to contain elements which India may find encouraging. It appears that the Indians have held out assurances to the Americans that they have no intention of going to war and that their objective is to maintain the pressure on Pakistan to achieve the anti-terrorism goals they share with the United States. Unstated, but probably the principal reason for reluctant American acquiescence in the Indian Game Plan, is the BJP's assessment that such a hard line towards Pakistan improves their election prospects in the UP and other state elections, This was perhaps why, when Powell was in Pakistan there was no insistence on the withdrawal of troops from the borders but instead an emphasis on the resumption of a dialogue and the reaching of some agreement to be followed in due course by the withdrawal of troops. The Americans, it seems, are convinced either on the basis of misinformation from the Indians or from their own sources that not enough has been done by Pakistan as a follow up on the Musharraf speech of 12th January. Americans seem to agree with the Indian argument that Pakistan should be kept under pressure to do more in this respect.