Zardari-Obama meeting: 30 minutes in vain?

Published: January 18, 2011

Why did Zardari go to Holbrooke's memorial service?

US President Barack Obama spared only 30 minutes for a meeting with our president this Friday. And even after those 30 minutes, the same drone (no pun intended) of mutual cooperation and cordial relations was discussed.

The White House statement summarised the meeting by saying:

“The discussion focused on our shared efforts to fight terrorism and promote regional stability, specifically on the importance of cooperating toward a peaceful and stable outcome in Afghanistan.”

The only new development seemed to be Obama’s statement saying that he “is looking forward to visiting Pakistan later this year.”

That is what our government seemed to be jubilant and honoured about, completely forgetting the cold shoulder we received in November when Obama visited India and China, while conveniently skipping Pakistan.

The most pressing issue of drone attacks in the western half of the country was not discussed. Countermeasures to deal with terrorism, which was slow gnawing into our society at first and is now tearing major chunks of humanity out of us, also went untouched.

It seems that the only issue on the table was that the president and the democracy – if you can call it that – stay in Pakistan. And these 30 minutes were just that: a reciprocal pat on the back to ‘hang in there’, as both presidents face the last two years of their tenures.

After the ‘private’ meeting, President Zardari along with Obama attended the memorial of Richard Holbrooke, the late US Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan – the main reason of his visit to the US.

Holbrooke’s death is definitely a big loss to the diplomatic community and his memorial was a very diplomatic affair. Perhaps Ambassador Hussain Haqqani or someone belonging to the US-Pakistan diplomatic circle could have represented Pakistan instead of Zardari, who happened to be the only other president at the memorial apart from the president of Georgia.

So why did our president go to the memorial? You do the math. I assure you, it will not take 30 minutes.


Neha Ansari

A sub-editor on the Karachi pages of The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Raqib Ali

    Unnecessary criticism!! The author would have complained otherwise saying ‘Obama didn’t even meet our president!Recommend

  • Zeenab Sadiq

    I think Neha Ansari you missed the idea of the trip and then proceeded to bloat your assessment of the meeting of Zardari, with our President Obama. This was NOT a policy trip as you are trying to mislead your readers, this was Zardari’s attending the memorial of Richard Holbrooke, the late US Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan and at such memorials policy meeting are not scheduled as this would be seen as a sign of disrespect.
    Maybe in Pakistan a funeral memorial service is also used as a venue for policy debate but herein America the memorial was a homage to a find person who worked till his death to bring a delicate balance to two troubled countries.
    I think it was better for President Obama to visit Pakistan separately than combine it with his November trip to India and China. This gives him more time in Pakistan than a hurried dash, but I see no matter what he does there would be some groaning. Also the security measures to protect him in a dangerous environment like Pakistan are probably a major concern of his security detail.
    So, enough with the wining at least he is visiting Pakistan!Recommend

  • Jun

    in the world of diplomacy , i am sure there are many things hapeening not visible to general public,Neither Obama has time to waste for Zardari , neither Zardari is too anxious to visit US like any average Pakistani .For every visit and meeting , there is a purpose and sometimes not so public .This is unnecessary criticism .Recommend

  • Ziyad Khan

    It is not un-necessary criticism as some are suggesting here. Holbrooke had rendered his services for his country, but even his last stint as Af-Pak envoy, doesn’t require that the President of Pakistan attend his memorial service at taxpayers expense, when the fact is that the taxpayers didn’t have any outstanding emotional attachment with the guy anyway. As the writer mentions it, Pakistan Ambassador would have been an enough representative there. Recommend

  • it

    Zeenab- Oh how conveniently you skipped over the last part of the blog which states what was the purpose of him even using taxpayer money to go to the funeral. Clearly only Presidents of elite & ultra-wealthy nations such as Pakistan & Georgia go to these funerals since everything is so peachy in their own countires.

    Stop trying to making it a US vs. Pakistan funeral etiquette response & focus on the bigger picture of why he even went.Recommend

  • Ehsan Haq

    Some people have the habit of writing for the sake of writing, and author of the report falls in the same category. Is she upset on attending the funeral service, the meeting between two presidents or the visit itself? Its obvious that Zardari promarily was in Washington for Holbrook funeral, and it is unprecedented for US president to invite foreign dignitries on private visit to White House. It was more of a courtasy call than formal trip. Even though Hillary and National Security Advisors were in attendance, whreas Zardari was accompanied by Haqqani only.
    Some people around even object on his visit to Karachi. This is critisim for the sake of critisism. Recommend

  • http://Peshawar G.Khan

    30 minutes are too much. 5 minutes were enough for kind of IQ zardari has. By the way, he was missing from Salman Taseer’s funeral. But did quite well to participate in Holbrook’s. He was ordered to show up there he had no choice I think. This is what happens when you come through NRO. Recommend

  • saman

    yeah! whts the point in writing this article.just a waste of time. seems da writer is obsessed with zardari. Recommend

  • parvez

    I agree with the writer. The visit as it stands did not make much sense.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Good point someone made about Zardari not attending ST’s funeral but flying out (on tax payers’ expense) to Holbrook’s. Not so diplomacy/ etiquette savvy then, eh!….. or did I miss something??Recommend

  • Dr.Razi uddin Khan

    Why any one would pay attention to the worst Pakistani head of state!!! even his own countryman don’t!! except for grin or fake smile on his face,what else he can give…his visit was merely to make sure that he be allowed another two year extension from the Big boss…uncle sam!!
    A president by accident..thats what he is…he people wake up… Recommend

  • Neha

    Yes, Holbrooke was a great diplomat as some say. But if he was so important for the AfPak bloc, why didnt Karzai go?
    And why did the trip to Pakistan in November had to be a dash? Why couldn’t it be a proper visit? Just because of security? If security is such a major concern, why is he coming this year anyway? Recommend

  • Ali

    What’s the pupose of Obama coming to Pakistan? I don’t understand why people get hot under the collar about Obama visiting Pakistan.
    When he does come the meeting will go something along the lines of Pakistan has suffered due to terrorism.It must do more to clamp down on the Taliban yadda, yadda,yadda.
    Then the great Zadari will probably give a speech regarding this great democratic set up in Pakistan and defeating extremism in front of a portrait of “Great” Benazir and talk of the sacrifices of the PPP (in getting their loot out of Pakistan).

    There will not be any businees deals to sign. No showing off to be done because we only go backwards. Perhaps he’ll get a taste of our great mangoes.

    Tour over.Masses fooled again. Democracy in Pakistan will churn out ever greater results and the world will go about it’s business.Recommend

  • Ali

    Put simply no one trusts/likes the politicans of Pakistan. We only think the worst about them. Decades of PML and PPP looting, lies, corruption, cronyism has left us this way. One fool isn’t going to change that.Recommend

  • Sana Saleem

    Whether they spare 30 minutes or 30 hours with each other, outcome would be what US wants and we would be consoled with the aid.Recommend

  • Zohra Nishan

    @Neha – “If security is such a major concern, why is he coming this year anyway?
    I too am concerned the standard of security in Pakistan is envied by the rest of the world that is why so many “foreign born security experts are coming to training camps to sharpen their skills.”
    I really don’t see the point of the President of one of the most powerful countries in recent history will make a trek half across the world to visit and spend time with a country that is successful satisfying its citizens with great economic growth, public safety that immigrants from other less fortunate countries and waiting in lines to enter and share the great fortunes. Recommend

  • Fazl Hussain

    Let’s see Bagger Zardari what can bring from US….He is the only bagger.who gives everything instead of getting…I don’t know either they snatch every thing from him.or he just give up….Recommend

  • Hammad Siddiqui

    No boday would ever know the purpose of his visit!Recommend

  • Ahmed Ilyas

    what happens when you put two enemies of Pakistan in one room…Recommend

  • Anoop

    “..cold shoulder we received in November when Obama visited India and China, while conveniently skipping Pakistan.”

    –> Dont want to be condescending but this is the truth: Pakistan is a middle-level power at best and cannot expected to be treated on par India or China.

    While India is a net contributor to the US and World Economy, Pakistan does the opposite. Get my point?

    Is Bangladesh unhappy that US skipped it? No. Why? Because it is not under any delusions of grandeur. Recommend

  • maria

    @Fazl Hussain: I don’t know if Zardari “bagged” any deals in latest visit to the US. I am not fan of Zardari but in the world of politics, a meeting is a meeting and we don’t know what happended behind the scenes beyond the view of cameras. Pakistan has to leverage its position as a bulwark against extremism in its region. Recommend

  • Romi

    All this effort to be present in a funeral….that is so not zardari!..Recommend

  • mastishhk

    @ (Pakistan has to leverage its position as a *bulwark against extremism* in its region) EXCUSE ME….The whole world considers Pakistan as a fountainhead of terrorism. The regular Presidential trips to USA are looked upon as attempts to get more aid for fighting against terrorism. Pakistan has since long rented itself as a place from where attacks can be launched on terrorists ( more civilians get killed in these attacks than terrorists). Our leaders do not raise their voices against these killings because their mouths are stuffed with dollars. Terrorism is a throbing industry in Pakistan , just like IT in India, watches in Switzerland or Cellphones in Finland. Name any Industry which gets our impoverished nation more money than terrorism. Its time we get used to this “Blood Money” . Pakistan as a nation sold out its soul a long time back. Our foreign policy and domestic policy both are dictated eiither by China or US. We have a clown like Zardari as our president who does a dissappearing act whenever he should be leading from the front (Floods, Taseer’s murder). Really fail to understand what intelligent thing he must have discussed with Obama. Recommend

  • K khan

    The purpose of visit from our side is only “outing” with no intention of any positive gain for the country. Recommend

  • IZ

    Criticism for criticism’s sake. What a non-issue.Recommend

  • http://India PriyaSuraj

    May be they talked about how Zardari could get US bodyguards?Recommend

  • Sabina Pasha

    Also lost in this discussion is the role of Richard Halbrooke, who had his share of admirers also honoring the exceptional achievements of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and recognizing the monumental contributions he has made to United States and th world , humanitarian causes, and peaceful resolutions of international conflict.
    The Dayton Accords — the agreement Mr. Halbrooke negotiated which stopped the killings in Bosnia and paved a path to peace in the Balkans that endures today. He was central to our efforts to limit ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and pave the way for its independence, and he found a way to break the stalemate in talks in Cyprus. The ethnic cleansing of Muslims when the rest of the world in Asia and Europe specially the so-called Muslim world conveniently ignored.
    The critics of America and there are many in Pakistan forget this crass time in history while their Arab brothers were busy finding their fortunes in oil and building grand palaces.
    Known as a hard-working diplomat who wasn’t shy about being frank in his assessments and disappointment with Pakistan playing a double role on one hand taking tax-payer American money and also helping terrorist flourish, he is believed to have had more difficulties negotiating the more delicate atmosphere in working with weak-corrupt leaders like Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
    Would he have been successful with the Afghan-Pakistan mission is hard to predict when one is dealing with two very problematic failing countries.Recommend

  • kazim agha

    i don’t think so that this meeting had no purpose.i do not know whats wrong with the writer.what you thing the person who spends 20 years behind the barrs and now he has become the persident of pakistan.he is not so stupid that he waste 30 minutes certainly he made some agreements or disagreements.Recommend

  • Maha

    @ Anoop
    Ah You never miss a chance to glorify your country. Still you can’t help to comment on a country which is as insignificant as Bangladesh. Do you comment on Bangladesh newspapers as well? We know economy matters the most but right now we still are the front line state as much as we hate this fact so yeah we matter in a different way. However, we are grateful that Obama didn’t come. His visit will not bring anything to us. It’s only the media who is unhappy about this, not us. Cheers!

    @ author
    It was an unofficial visit so it served no purpose. What was sad however that our president failed to attend the funeral of his companion Taseer but didn’t mind attending a foreign diplomat’s funeral. Really shows where his heart lies.Recommend

  • Shayhaq Hayat

    Nice job Neha, carry onRecommend