It is as much unfair to the new civilian democratically-elected government in Pakistan as it should be embarrassing for China. General Musharraf is paying a six-day visit to China at a time when his own status in the country is highly controversial and when the new leadership in Pakistan has just taken over and has not even fully settled in the face of serious domestic and external challenges to the country. It is an ill-timed and misplaced visit, if not totally unnecessary.
Given the known depth and width of our time-tested relationship with China, there was no need for this untimely and perhaps unnecessary “state visit,” the stated purpose for which is to attend the annual meeting of the Boao Forum for Asia, a Chinese counterpart of the Davos-based World Economic Forum. Musharraf’s programme in China will also include talks with President Hu Jintao in a southern town of Sanya, and separate meetings in Beijing with Premier Wen Jiabao and other Chinese state leaders.
The Boao Forum this year will be addressing Asia’s economic challenges with special focus on energy and environment-related issues. The three-day conference offers an opportunity to its hundred of participants of the level of corporate executives and company directors to discuss the region’s environmental future and identify the means for energy efficiency in the context of Asia’s future through renewable energy sources.
Among the expected participants at the level of head of state will be the presidents of Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Chile. King Tupou V of Tonga and the prime ministers of Sweden, Kazakhstan, Qatar and Australia are also likely to attend. It is certainly not a very impressive list. Most of these “dignitaries” have no problems at home and can afford being away from their countries without raising any questions.
No one denies the importance of frequent “high-level” interaction between countries and their leaders through working or official visits in today’s globalized world but this interaction is bound to be lopsided when you have a serious credibility problem and when your own people are questioning your legitimacy to speak on their behalf. Their verdict on February 18 against Musharraf was loud and clear. We should not have embarrassed our friends.
China-Pakistan relationship is an abiding partnership which has grown over the decades in dimension and scope and is not dependent on expediencies or transient personalities. This unique and exemplary relationship is based on commonalities of mutual interest and is underpinned by the aspirations of the people of the two countries. It is not predicated on the number of visits exchanged between their leaders.
China’s President Hu Jintao has visited Pakistan only once in ten years compared to an average of three to four by our leaders every year. What it shows is that ultimately it is not the number of visits but their content, the timing and the output that matter.
Musharraf’s current “state visit” is not likely to produce any significant results. It comes too soon after President Hu Jintao’s state visit to Pakistan in November 2006 which laid down a concrete multi-dimensional framework of bilateral cooperation in the form of nearly thirty groundbreaking agreements for greater economic, commercial and technical cooperation. No country likes to sign agreements with an outgoing leader or government.
The Chinese would have preferred to welcome and get to know at this time the new leadership in Pakistan. They must have been keen to know from the new government its priority agenda and its roadmap for the follow-up and implementation of the existing agreements. Progress on most of these projects has remained hostage to the constitutional and judicial crisis in the country.
What is now needed is the faithful implementation of these projects. We should avoid entering into fresh non-implementable arrangements or undertakings. Any follow-up discussion on this aspect of our bilateral cooperation would have been best handled by the new government. The refusal of PML (N) ministers including the Finance Minister to accompany Musharraf on this visit is a clear indication of the serious cracks inherent in the current situation.
Instead of undermining the privilege and prerogative of the newly-elected leadership in Pakistan, Musharraf should have let the new government establish its own equation with the Chinese leadership. They shouldn’t be riding on his shoulders to move ahead with their popular mandate. The people will be disappointed over the “working” relationships being developed contrary to their verdict.
In any case, Musharraf didn’t have to undertake this visit at a time when his country is mired in a crisis of “blood and fire” and political chaos, and when mainstream political parties as well as civil society and lawyers are publicly speaking of a “hidden hand” for the latest eruption of violence in Lahore and Karachi as part of the conspiracy to subvert the democratic process in its nascent phase. They blame the remnants of the outgoing system that still hold invisible strings of power for these conspiracies.
These are difficult times for Pakistan and its people. We would have been best advised not to schedule a visit to China in this murky political scenario at home. Nobody would have missed our absence at the Boao Forum in a crowd of hundreds of business executives and a handful of leaders from unnoticeable countries. Bilaterally too, there was no need or urgency for this precipitous presidential visit at this stage.
If at all, a visit from Pakistan was needed, it should have been the new prime minister who should have gone instead and taken with him the key members of his Cabinet. The Chinese would have surely preferred to avail themselves of this opportunity for an interaction with Prime Minister Gillani and other key members of his government.
But even that visit could have waited for some time or at least until the political situation in the country returns to normal and the ongoing political struggle in the newly elected parliament reaches its logical conclusion. Any such visit would be untimely at this stage when the country is struggling to chart its course out of the political whirlpool in which it has been kept mired over the last eight years under General Musharraf.
Since early March last year, Pakistan has been going through the worst constitutional and judicial crisis of its history because of one man’s obsession for remaining in power at every cost and by all means. The people have already given their verdict which they want to be implemented without delay. They did not vote for any compromises or deals based on self-centered or externally-dictated expediencies. It was an unmistakable referendum against Musharraf and the waning system that he represents.
The people want their original Constitution back and the deposed judges reinstated immediately without any “wheeling and dealing” or politically-motivated compromise packages. The new parliament now has an inescapable agenda for change and will have to meet the popularly-mandated benchmarks in a time-bound framework. In the process, Musharraf while still in China might be embarrassed. Not a good timing for him to be in a friendly country.
We have had enough of high-level global safaris by our leaders over the past eight years. It is also time we brought an end to this Marco Polo culture and infused some dignity in our “state diplomacy.” Musharraf is already the most traveled head of state in the world. The only one who beats him in terms of the number of foreign visits is his own “short cut” of a dual nationality “tenure track” prime minister who in his three-year term set a world record by visiting more than one hundred countries in “public interest.”
Former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was fond of these forums and had never missed a meeting of the World Economic Forum be that in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Jordan or elsewhere. He also attended last year’s Boao Forum meeting. These forums have no intrinsic value for our country’s economic interests. They may be beneficial to our leaders in terms of their personal “relations” with influential business magnates who are the principal fixtures of these events.
These forums are no more than “business carnivals” where the richest businesses make big deals with one another and lobby the world’s most powerful politicians in their profit-making goals. Many behind the scene “transactions” are conducted on the sidelines of this event in the garb of “improving” the state of the world.
A misplaced visit