Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Visit Challenges Both of "The Two Benazir Bhuttos"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Visit Challenges Both of "The Two Benazir Bhuttos"

Article excerpt

U.S. Visit Challenges Both of "The Two Benazir Bhuttos"

By M. M. Ali

"Two Benazir Bhuttos" were described recently by Paula Newberg of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. One is the enlightened, Harvard- and Oxford-schooled liberal seen in the international arena, and the other the conservative chador-wearing prime minister who entered into an arranged marriage and who has managed to bear and raise children while ruling over a Muslim country. Most political leaders shift comfortably from their "down home" to "national leader" personas and back again, but few face such a task in doing so as does Pakistan's prime minister.

At home, as she presides over male-dominated cabinet meetings and government ministries, she is closely watched by a self-righteous, self-appointed religious orthodoxy that relishes playing on the naivete of the illiterate masses. On the external front she has to deal with a large and unfriendly India, Muslim countries still confused and divided in a post-Gulf war, post-Cold War world, and across the Atlantic with a former ally that emerged as the sole remaining superpower, and seems bent on pontificating and prescribing on every matter of concern to her country. Yet Americans like Paula Newberg expect Benazir to deliver equally on both fronts.

Such expectations and frustrations provide the backdrop to Benazir Bhutto's April visit to the United States. It has been billed not as a state visit but a working visit, meaning she will make few public appearances but will spend more time in closed-door business sessions.

Ironically, her government's decision to hand over Ramzi Ahmad Yousef, long wanted by U.S. authorities as the alleged "master-mind" behind the New York World Trade Center bombing, although no extradition treaty exists between the two countries, is being denounced by the religious right and her political opposition as "a sellout" and "a capitulation" to the U.S. The subsequent murder of two American staff members of the U.S. Consulate in strifetorn Karachi has prompted the U.S. to dispatch an FBI team to investigate and to offer a $2 million reward for the capture of the culprits. Although such an award apparently prompted one of Yousef's accomplices to inform the U.S. of his where-abouts, Pakistanis view the U.S. moves as encroachments on their sovereignty, or reproaches against their own authorities.

In the U.S., where Benazir generally is viewed as a friend, she will encounter what may seem equally irrational hostility personified by Senator Larry Pressler of South Dakota. This Israel-oriented Democrat authored the bill that forced a cut-off of U.S. aid to its long-term South Asian ally on grounds that, like its neighbors on both sides, India and China, it was pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The administration of President Bill Clinton would love to see the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty extended for another 10 years, and having new members like Pakistan and India sign on would help. Now that both Islamabad and New Delhi have agreed to the setting up of nuclear monitoring stations on their soils, Washington has soft-pedaled the NPT issue, but hasn't given up on it.

The question may come up during her visit. If so, the administration would ask Pakistan to sign the NPT in return for an offer to ask Congress to remove the Pressler Amendment that has precluded Pakistan alone from receiving any kind of U.S. assistance, and also for a commitment from India that it would follow suit.

Otherwise, even the U.S. private investments that have trickled into Pakistan in recent years and the aid that reaches Pakistan from international agencies might be jeopardized. Benazir Bhutto's unwillingness to go along with such arrangements could even cool U.S. interest in helping to solve the festering question of Kashmir. Therefore, a whole lot rides on the U.S. visit of Pakistan's prime minister, who as a photogenic and U.S.-educated woman leader has considerable appeal to Americans who follow world affairs. …

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