- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

Pakistan’s military and civilian rulers will be in the United States later this month, and both are expected to meet President Bush.

Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who arrives in Washington on Sept. 30, is scheduled to meet Mr. Bush on Oct. 1, only a few days after an expected ceremonial meeting between Mr. Bush and President Pervez Musharraf.

The White House’s confirmation last week of the Bush-Jamali meeting has serious political implications for Pakistan, where a year-old civilian government is still struggling to assert itself in a military-dominated establishment.

As William Milam, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, observed: Pakistan has “a hybrid government with an elected civilian partner and the military as the superior partner.”

The civilian government was elected in October 2002 after three years of direct military rule.

Although the new prime minister is from a party — the Pakistan Muslim League — that is loyal to Gen. Musharraf, “the military is still reluctant to share power with the civilians” and does not allow them “to make major policy decisions,” Mr. Milam said.

Aware of the implications in Pakistan of a Bush-Jamali meeting, the White House tried to convey the message that “key bilateral, regional and international issues,” and not Pakistan’s domestic politics, will be discussed.

The talks will focus on “the close cooperation between the United States and Pakistan in the war against terrorism,” said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

But the assurance could not stop the Pakistani media from speculating that by agreeing to meet Mr. Jamali, who does not have much of a say in the policy-making process in Pakistan, Mr. Bush is telling the military that Washington would like the current civilian setup to continue.

Reacting to such speculations, a State Department official told UPI it would be a mistake to see Mr. Jamali’s visit to the White House as an interference in Pakistan’s internal politics.

“We are fully in support of democracy in Pakistan, and this is going to be a main focus of the visit, but the speculation that Prime Minister Jamali was invited in order to enhance his stature is not true,” the official said.

Asked how Washington views the visit and whether it would strengthen democracy in Pakistan, the official said: “It is the rescheduling of a visit we planned quite awhile ago, and it is not intended, I guess, as a U.S. intervention in Pakistani democracy. We are doing business with the head of the government in Pakistan.”

Nevertheless, many in Pakistan believe that an official meeting with President Bush would strengthen Mr. Jamali’s position at home. Some Pakistani commentators pointed out that recent news reports in Pakistan spoke of serious differences between Gen. Musharraf and Mr. Jamali. Some reports, they said, also claimed that Gen. Musharraf had been thinking of dismissing the Jamali government before the White House announced the visit.

Political pundits in Pakistan say that now it would be difficult for Gen. Musharraf to sack a person who is scheduled to meet Mr. Bush as it would be seen as embarrassing the U.S. president.

They say that it would be even more difficult to remove him if he returns home with praise from the White House and the U.S. Congress, which has long been urging the Bush government to press Gen. Musharraf to accelerate the democratic process in Pakistan.

Any action against Mr. Jamali soon after the visit, the pundits say, is bound to cause negative reactions in Washington, particularly on Capitol Hill, where some already criticize the Bush administration for allying itself with a military dictator.

“I believe the U.S. will not be very benign if Musharraf removes Jamali,” said Mr. Milam, while emphasizing that “a sustainable democracy is in Pakistan’s interest and the U.S. administration to keep pushing for it.”

Commenting on such speculation, the State Department official said: “Yes, I am aware of these reports, and that is why I pointed out that this visit had been scheduled quite some time ago, and now we are finally able to reschedule it. When we postponed it back in March, I believe, we already said it would be awhile before it was rescheduled because of the heaviness of the White House schedule.”

He said there are a number of issues on which the United States needs a high-level consultation with Pakistan, and “the prime minister’s visit would be a good opportunity for that.”

The U.S. official said that although Gen. Musharraf is also visiting New York later this month, there is no clash between the two visits.

Asked why the president and the prime minister were both visiting the United States within a week of one another, the official said: “As I said before, there are a lot of issues that we need to work out with Pakistan.”

During his three-day stay in Washington, the Pakistani prime minister is expected to meet Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Meetings with senior officials of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development are being finalized. The prime minister is also scheduled to hold a luncheon meeting with the American business community and may address a Washington think tank as well.

After his three days of official engagements in Washington, Mr. Jamali will visit New York and possibly Chicago, where he may address that city’s Pakistani community.

The Pakistani prime minister’s visit was originally scheduled for March 20, but was postponed owing to the Iraq war.

Mr. Jamali is the first elected leader from Pakistan to visit the United States since 1999, when then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to Washington on the Fourth of July for talks on disengagement of Indian and Pakistani troops in the Kargil sector of Kashmir.

Mr. Jamali will arrive in the United States a week after Gen. Musharraf, who is due in New York this month for a three-day visit to the U.N. General Assembly. Mr. Bush will also be in New York during this period, and the two leaders may meet at a reception at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations arranges for visiting dignitaries.

The two presidents met in June this year when Gen. Musharraf visited Camp David. At that meeting, the United States announced a $3 billion aid package to Pakistan.

From New York, Gen. Musharraf is to fly to Canada for a two-day visit and depart for Islamabad on Sept. 26.

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