(From left to right) Hamid Karzai, Barack Obama and Asif Ali Zardari
There was something unintentionally ironic when President Barack Obama said this after his summit meeting with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai : “We meet today as three sovereign nations joined by a common goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
I know political correctness requires political leaders to say things that they may not necessarily mean but it is a bit of a stretch to call Pakistan and Afghanistan sovereign nations in the current circumstances. In Karzai we have a leader whose writ dies at the main gate of his presidential palace in Kabul. In Zardari we have a leader whose writ runs a little farther than Karzai’s—about 60 miles outside Islamabad. Unless we have recently changed the definition of national sovereignty these two gentlemen cannot be described to be heading sovereign countries. They just live in opulent presidential palaces and do ceremonial things.
During the course of his remarks Obama said, “And we must do more than stand against those who would destroy Pakistan –- we must stand with those who want to build Pakistan. And that is why I've asked Congress for sustained funding, to build schools and roads and hospitals.” Let’s understand this statement. Here is the “leader of the free world” standing next to the president of a “sovereign” nation talking about building schools and roads and hospitals. I thought all these building activities fell under the purview of some local agency in Pakistan. If I were Zardari I would have melted in embarrassment that the president of the United States has asked the Congress of his country for funds to build schools, roads and hospitals in my country. If I were Karzai, rather than so meticulously ensuring that my flowing green robe and fur cap always appear so neat on me, I would try to help my country emerge from the 18th century.
I understand that the U.S. does not have much choice other than investing some hope and a whole lot of cash in the two men it does not particularly care about. The two men will take the cash but leave hope behind when they go back to their respective “sovereign” nations.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (third from left)
P.S.: I think Zardari mistook this summit as a bring-your-son-to-work-day. He brought his son Bilawal to the official meetings and made him sit just two chairs away from Obama, himself being in the middle. I was picturing a conversation between the two in Islamabad before traveling to Washington.
Bilawal: “Abba, Can I also come with you to Washington? I am so like keen to meet Barack Obama.”
Zardari: “Kyun nahi bete, this is your government and your country and your plane.”