Prime Minister Gilani's first trip to the US is over. The assessments are beginning to come in. Some of them are rather worrysome. Reports say the prime minister was found lacking in depth of understanding and vision when answering questions put by audiences that included experts on South Asia. His rather limited responses when faced with tough questions on terrorism, the key issue for the moment, impressed few. The prime minister also, according to media reports, showed evidence of ISI links with key militants. His denial since then that any problem exists is hardly reassuring. In the first place the comments hold no credibility. Secondly, cover-ups solve no problems. In fact they play a part in allowing issues to grow and assume more dangerous proportions.
On a slightly more positive note, the prime minister's pleasant personality seems to have won him some friends. He also spoke consistently of the need to combat terror for the sake of Pakistan and not the US, and this too has gone down well. But in the final analysis, the prime minister has failed to prove, despite his repeated claims, that he is his "own man." Most citizens in Pakistan are convinced that real decision making takes place elsewhere. US leaders, too, seem to have understood that, at the end of the visit, this is the reality of the new Pakistan. The visit indeed was seen in the US as an opportunity to assess the current Pakistani leadership. Some key analysts in Washington are now reported to have expressed concern over the nature of the setup in Pakistan and seem unconvinced that Mr Gilani has the dynamism needed to rescue the country from its state of crisis. This may be a rather harsh judgment on a man who has moved into the prime minister's hot seat only months ago. While he may not be an especially slick speaker, Mr Gilani has shown he speaks from the heart. This in itself is a rare quality. But the fact is that life in public office is tough and the demands it imposes are formidable. There are questions at present over whether the prime minister has so far come up to the mark.
This raises some disturbing questions. For Pakistan, it is essential that the latest period of democracy deliver. As US commentators have noted, there are fewer and fewer options left. The present leadership must then show it can make a difference. After all, long years of autocratic rule have plunged Pakistan into the desperate situation it today faces. The elected leadership must muster strength and pull it out of these depths. The people who make up parliament today have, after all, been selected by millions of voters. They must then rise to the expectations of this electorate.
It is, however, unfair to judge leaders on the basis of their speaking ability or apparent intellectualism alone. What is crucial is that the prime minister and his team, in the first place, demonstrate that they are truly behind the tasks of decision making and that the country is indeed run by the cabinet and not by other figures who manipulate matters from behind the scenes. Tough issues, including those of militancy, must be tackled head on, and so too must the concerns raised about the ISI. Such serious charges of a nexus with militants cannot simply be ignored, particularly as video footage proving these links has reportedly been put before the prime minister. The key task is to set up a team that can address these issues. The many experts in various fields within Pakistan can be called on to assist the cabinet in this. After all, politicians are themselves rarely masters of intricate economic or security issues. Most important of all is the need for the government to demonstrate it is truly in charge and has the ability to unravel issues. So far conviction in this regard is lacking and such lack of faith can only add to the problems faced by the Gilani-led set-up.