This was a week like none other for the Indian press. With the 'most powerful man on earth' the American President George Bush visiting India the first time, this was clearly an opportunity like none before. There were special programs covering his visit and more specials to analyze the specials. Experts on American foreign policy were in heavy demand and suddenly anyone who could combine Bush, Iraq, war, strategic importance, nuclear, investment, India and Pakistan in a sentence together was an expert! How many orphans did Laura cling to her bosom in Delhi and who was the enterprising NGO worker who planted a kiss on Bush's cheeks in Hyderabad. The First Couple dug into chicken kebabs despite bird flu threats in this part of the world. All this and more was part of the visiting American circus.
One television channel interviewed an award-winning writer who went to great lengths to explain why she was protesting Bush's visit. Protesting was in fashion amongst Delhi's glitterati. Not to be outdone, another television channel devoted an hour to the sixteen dogs accompanying Bush and emphasized that they were not dogs. No, they were officers of the American security forces. And these dogs, oops officers, were staying at the same palatial five-star hotel as the President himself. Well some lucky dogs definitely had their day.
With Bush making a one-day halt next-door in Pakistan, all eyes followed him to Islamabad. Everyone held their breath to see what political spectacle would unfold there. The Indian press was gleeful in pointing out that Bush has made it clear that Pakistan should not expect a civilian nuclear agreement on the lines of the one signed with India earlier this week and that he has stressed that the two neighbors' requirements should not be compared.
The American and European press followed the same tone - Pakistan will not be given the same nuclear favor as India. However they also questioned Bush's strategy of dividing nuclear nations into responsible (India) and irresponsible (Iran) and thereby creating ambiguity about two of its allies Pakistan and Israel. Pakistan's leading nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, was exposed in 2003 as the chief of a lucrative black market in weapons technology that supplied Iran, Libya and North Korea. Pakistan and the United States governments had denied any knowledge of his proliferation activities.
Musharraf and Bush released a customary joint statement, which can be read in detail on the White House website. This statement can easily be mistaken for one made earlier because it is nothing but old promises on new manuscript. It reiterates that Pakistan is a major non-NATO ally for the United States. It further states that United States seeks closer ties with Pakistan for increasing economic trade and investment. It also praises the Pakistani side for the strategic support in its war on terrorism.
No wonder it has left many in Pakistan to question what did General Musharraf achieve from the visit. As one journalist asked Pakistani foreign minister, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, during his briefing on the visit, "had Pakistan had not been left empty-handed after the visit?"
Tensions were evident as the visit took place just two days after a powerful suicide bomb exploded in Karachi killing four persons including an American diplomat. The general mood was somber with the man on the street questioning why Bush gave favors to India and not Pakistan. After all Pakistan was its ally in South Asia.
Mr. Bush leaves South Asia with a trail of inequality and disparity. On one hand he has forged a closer relationship with India based on its growing affluence in the world economy and backed by the significant number of people of Indian origin in influential positions in United States. On the other hand, he told his ally President Musharraf, "I believe democracy is Pakistan's future, and we share a strong commitment to democracy." Musharraf is an army general who seized power in 1999 in military sponsored coup and till date has successfully subverted all attempts at returning Pakistan to a democratically elected government.
A basket of goodies for a new companion and an unyielding handshake for an old ally?
Watch this space.