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February 2, 2000
Around the White House, there is much talk of President Clinton's upcoming visit to South Asia. Rediff.com has learned that Air Force One has been fuelled to the brim, and is ready to take off as soon as the itinerary is finalized. However, a few obstacles remain, and these are being addressed vigorously, as the deadline approaches. Our especially reliable correspondent has tapped his moles in the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Pakistan, the Indian Prime Minister's Office, and in the U S government, and come up with a list of the pending issues.
* It is not clear whether Air Force One has permission to land in Islamabad, or if the aircraft will have to be diverted. The regular pilot employed to operate this bird wishes this to be explicitly clarified before he will attempt to land there. Recent reports out of Pakistan indicate that persons diverting aircraft, even if only to other nearby airports, can be tried for treason. Further confusion also stems from the fact that no one seems to know if Pakistani laws on treason apply to citizens of the United States.
* In his quest to restore vibrant democracy to Pakistan, President Clinton was hopeful of meeting opposition leaders as well as members of the independent judiciary during his visit. It now appears that both categories have been abolished, although the Chief of Army Stiffs, Havaldar Musharaff, has assured his countrymen that this is in the national interest.
* It is reliably learnt that media in Pakistan in not interested in mere showmanship, and think that the visit would lack substance, and wish to avoid this during a time when they are seriously asking the tough questions. Various members of the free press, led by staff at The Don, have taken to the airwaves and streets demanding a timetable for democracy as well as condemning the army's abuse of independent civilian institutions. To appease them, the COAS has assured, dead-pan, that once independent bodies have all been eliminated, they would have fewer reasons to complain.
* Having gotten an earful from environmentalists praising Pakistan's spectacular outdoors, President Clinton has expressed a strong desire to tour parts of Pakistan other than the airport terminal where the military want to meet. The military men used to the rough and tumble existence of the soldier are not sure how to respond to this; they had earlier been hoping that the President would accommodate their views and agree to meet in the hinterlands of the North West Frontier Pocket Borough. Other sites in Kandahar and Chagai Hills are being studied as alternatives, but it is not clear if their Afghan and Chinese tenants are prepared to make these available. The Chinese, especially, are threatening to take their toys with them if they are asked to leave.
* Pakistanis are also wondering if a stop in Islamabad is necessary at all, since the President is also reported to be going to Bangladesh. A number of Bangla leaders have assured the Pakistanis that they will adequately represent the interests of West Pakistan when their honoured guest arrives in Dhaka. Although it is heartening to see that the British were right in identifying strong brotherhood amongst people separated by thousands of miles and all of civilization, the White House is trying to avoid the appearance that West Pakistan is being dominated by the denizens of their eastern delta.
* During foreign visits made by the American President, it is normal to be received by the head of state of the countries he is visiting. Pakistan is stated to have one of these lying around, although The Mercantile Division now reports that this product may have been recalled and dismantled. It is not certain that the intervening time before the visit is sufficient to reassemble him. Latest searches indicated that several parts of this chieftain have been quickly traced, and as soon as a spine is discovered, assembly can begin.
* Republicans in the venerable Senate, led by Jesse Helms, are certain to sneer at the sight of the American President playing second fiddle to anyone else. However, given the enormous popularity of Havaldar Musharraf's government, and his fantastic success at reviving Pakistan to a state of envied democracy and boundless wealth, this will be hard to avoid. Herr Musharraf is no ordinary mortal; so many Pakistanis are standing fully behind him that very soon, his following will outgrow the unemployment queue.
* Finally, some Pakistanis are also wary of improved relations between India and the United States. But Havaldar Musharraf has assured the nation he is doing everything to ensure the army would rather die than let this happen, and points to Kargil as a sure sign of his intent to keep this promise.
As the visit draws nearer, we are bound to see further rapid negotiations to resolve these and other hurdles to the satisfaction of all. The word is, President Clinton believes that a few top generals from Sandhurst military academy in Britain will be able to help him iron out any difficulties, given their close association with Havaldar Musharaff. However, the White House is prepared to wait while they attempt to bail out another close friend of the English people; another Sergeant in fact, Augusto Pinochet of Chile. Meanwhile, faraway in the deep dark of Islamabad's nights, the people of Pakistan prepare to leave the runway lights on for their American visitor.
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