Musharraf now irrelevant, Gilani told Bush

Replies to criticism of his US performance
By Rauf Klasra

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Wednesday he had told the Americans in clear words that President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was quite “irrelevant” to Pakistan and that the Bush administration had shown its strong willingness to work closely with him as the head of the new politically-elected government.

In an exclusive interview with The News in his office, PM Gilani said in the same breath he had also told the Americans that the people of Pakistan did not appreciate them, only because they had been supporting the military dictators in the country.

PM Gilani also defended his decision to visit the US within the first three months of his office and said it was wrong to assume that he had undertaken the visit at a wrong time. Gilani said he had informed the Americans who were asking questions about the “effectiveness” of Musharraf that he was only a “ceremonial” head of state as the real power to run the government was with the prime minister of Pakistan.

Two advisers of the PM, Maj Gen (retd) Mahmood Durrani and Ms Hina Rabbani Khar, remained present throughout the interview with The News, as Gilani for the first time gave his side of the story about what he had done during his visit to the US in two days of his stay there.

PM Gilani sounded confident that his visit to the White House had helped Pakistan to change the aggressive tone of the Americans, as now they were talking of working closely with Islamabad for strengthening democracy and dealing with the issue of unrest in the tribal areas of the country instead of invading the tribal areas as was being indicated before his visit.

However, a polite Gilani expressed feelings of hurt at the hostile treatment he received at the hands of the Pakistani media, saying that the American press was writing good things about him, but he was put on swords by the Pakistani media.

“But, I have no complaint whatsoever, as this was the same Pakistani media which had kept me and Asif Ali Zardari alive in politics during the military rule when we were rotting in jail,” Gilani said.

He said personally he did not mind the criticism of the media as only a free and fair media could strengthen the political and democratic system and it would ultimately benefit the state and its organs.

Replying to many tough questions asked in the backdrop of his visit to the US, Gilani replied in a polite tone that he was surprised to read some hostile stories in the local media. Otherwise, according to his perception, his first visit was very successful as he managed to convey a clear message to the Bush administration about what actually was in the best interests of Pakistan.

PM Gilani said during his interaction at different levels, he had told the Americans that President Musharraf was now irrelevant to Pakistan as this was actually a parliamentary system where a prime minister was the real boss.

Referring to his interaction with an American think tank, PM Gilani said he was asked a question about the “effectiveness” of Musharraf in the present day Pakistan. Gilani said he told the questioner that there was a wrong perception in Washington about Musharraf, as they were actually trying to compare Bush with Musharraf and this was not the right approach.

He told them should there be any comparison, then it should be between him and prime minister Gordon Brown or the Indian prime minister. To a question that there was a strong perception that he had failed to achieve any major breakthrough during his first visit to the US, Gilani said this was again a wrong perception as he had done very well during his meetings with the Bush administration. He said many major decisions were taken and announced during these meetings.

He termed his meetings with President Bush and other top officials of the administration as very useful. “Even the Americans were terming my visit to the US very successful so how could one claim that it was a failed visit.” He said after his return, the aggressive tone of the Americans had changed and now they were talking about working with his government to deal with the issues of mutual concerns.

When told how he could claim that his visit was successful as he was not given a proper reception at the US airport, Gilani replied that this was not true. “I am amazed to read such stories because you see the shed was hardly a few yards away from my plane, so I preferred to walk towards it where Richard Boucher was waiting to receive me.”

When told that he was not given a red carpet reception at the airport as it was done in the case of other visiting dignitaries, Gilani replied that the carpets were removed because of reports of storm. When he was returning to Pakistan, the same red carpets were very much there.

When told that there was a perception that his performance during the closed door meetings was much better as compared to his public interactions with the Americans, Gilani said how people could know about his performance within those meetings as none of them was present.

When pointed out that his performance during his interaction with think tanks was not up to the mark, Gilani replied that he was put five questions and he believed that he had given proper and suitable replies to those questioners.

He said even he received ovation on two of his replies. He said during his interaction with the think tanks, when someone asked why the people of Pakistan did not like the US despite the fact it was helping them in many fields, he replied to them in one line that it was because the Americans had been backing military regimes in Pakistan.

Likewise, he said, he was asked a question about the ISI and he replied that the same agency had been working with the Americans for the past 20 years and they might know more about the agency.

When asked whether in his opinion was it not too early to visit the US without any proper preparation, PM Gilani strongly defended his decision to visit Washington, saying it was at the right time and he achieved the desired results from the outcome of his talks with the top guns of the White House.
Source: The News, 7/8/2008

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