Co-chairing, with the US President Barack Obama, the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) meeting on Thursday, President Asif Ali Zardari stated that “a stable and prosperous Pakistan is the world’s greatest hope against the spread of extremism and terrorism”. The basis for his claim on the attention of the “friends” was Pakistan army’s success in its war against the Taliban terrorists in the Malakand Division in the NWFP and the promising nature of the ongoing military action in other parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

President Zardari deployed effective rhetoric by claiming that Pakistan was fighting for the entire civilised world. The truth is that the entire civilised world wants Pakistan to save itself from the scourge of the Taliban and, at least in theory, is ready to compensate it in return. Because terrorism around the world spreads from the epicentre of violent creeds in this region, the world agrees that if Pakistan fights it, it would save its own soul and also help the world fight in Afghanistan. This cooperative fight, the world thinks, would be tantamount to defending the entire civilisation as it exists today. The FoDP is supposed to translate the world’s gratitude towards Pakistan into monetary assistance. And a bit of that happened on Thursday.

The US Senate passed the Kerry-Lugar Bill which will give Pakistan USD1.5 billion annually towards a total payment to Pakistan of USD10 billion in five years. Already the FoDP have made it possible for Pakistan to receive USD13 billion as assistance to its foreign reserves, leading immediately to an improved credit rating, following by a boom at the Karachi stock exchange. The IMF had virtually no funds and had loaned only USD1 billion in 2007 and was nearing closure; today, thanks to the global recession and the efforts by the world to get out of the slump it finds itself in because of free market excesses, the IMF has USD750 billion and has already loaned USD160 billion to troubled economies all over the world.

The fight against terrorism is a complex issue. While it is important for Pakistan to remain on the sympathetic radar of everyone and walk in lockstep with the community of nations worried about terrorism in this region, there is much that the US-led allies need to do in Afghanistan to make Pakistan’s work easy. That has not happened so far, as should be clear from General McChrystal’s initial assessment report that has been leaked to the media a couple of days ago. That report also mentions the role of India as a destabilising factor which must be addressed in order for Pakistan to begin to take care of groups that might be attacking the NATO-ISAF interests in Afghanistan. But more than that there is reason for one to be concerned about the failure so far of the US, NATO and ISAF troops to bring that country under effective control.

Meanwhile, if the FoDP meeting seems to praise President Zardari for his “achievements” after one year in office, the media in Pakistan is in the process of presenting him as a villain. The US, which spearheads the international movement supporting Pakistan, is being described as an enemy country which, together with India, is trying to enslave it and snatch its nuclear assets. The US, according to the TV channels, has landed its mercenary Blackwater soldiers in Islamabad and is buying up land to set up a military base in Islamabad.
The general opinion takes a very depressive view of the PPP government. All the economic indicators that compel the world to look at Pakistan with hope are ignored and in fact seen as doomsday signs. The sugar crisis, in great measure caused by a “targeted subsidy” gone wrong, has taken over the national mind to the exclusion of all objective indicators.

Pakistan has stabilised considerably. Suicide-bombings are at an end; people uprooted by war are settling down with prospects of international humanitarian aid. But the Pakistani opinion, haunted by dangerously brawling politicians and hostile media, continues to destabilise it. It paints the present as “extension of what went before”, if not “worse than ever before”, and sees no hope in the future. This trend must change and it can change if the politicians and the media become more objective. *