Up until the presidential election, there were differing views on Asif Ali Zardari's candidature. His Presidency is now a reality. His ability to use this opportunity and to prioritise what needs to be done, are the main issues for the people of Pakistan.
Does he have the capacity to deliver? He has displayed a clarity of purpose in attaining his objectives. This may have come as a surprise to many. Those having interacted with him know that, whatever else, he is efficient, direct, and personable. His assumption of office has been received with relief as it has ended a period of political uncertainty. There are high expectations that he will guide the government in tackling the many serious problems that Pakistan faces.
Congratulatory messages from Saudi Arabia, China and America demonstrate that Pakistan's president continues to command a stature which he can leverage on behalf of his country. At home he draws strength from the overall predominance of the Pakistan Peoples Party, and a presence in a Punjab governed by Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (N).
There are indications of the roadmap and priorities that he intends to follow. He will first visit China and then go to the UN General Assembly, following precedents set by his predecessors, particularly Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto the major architect of the move towards China, the cornerstone of Pakistan's foreign policy. This vital strategic relationship needs to be constantly strengthened.
With China, cooperation in civil nuclear power generation is one aspect of a multi-dimensional trade - infrastructural projects, commercial ventures and economic assistance. A request for around $2 billion (Dh7.34 million) annually of Chinese investment to stimulate the entire economy should be made.
It is now time to reorient our trade to take advantage of China's ascending global position, and to build up our economy to be able to decrease our dependence on American assistance and its conditionalities.,
The visit to the UN General Assembly is an opportunity to project Pakistan and interact with a wide spectrum of world leaders, including President George W. Bush, as well as the international media, the academic community and the important Pakistani diaspora in the United States.
It appears clear that the president's overarching priority will be taking decisive action against terrorism, as this is a prerequisite for economic revival. Towards this challenging objective complex internal and external dynamics are involved.
While combating terrorism is important, the concerns of all segments of Pakistan's society at constantly rising inflation, food and energy prices, and deteriorating law and order situation have to be urgently addressed. Most important, the core problem in always-neglected Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is non-development. This also needs to be recognised by the bilateral donors.
Though dialogue with all elements is important, the Taliban-Al Qaida agenda to evict the US and Nato from Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be satisfied by any government in Pakistan, whatever the public sentiment. It is also clear that the US now has a higher stake in Afghanistan than in Iraq, propped by the ISAF/Nato coalition. In terms of international perception, to compensate for the coalition's inability to do more in Afghanistan, the US and Nato have "moved" the locus of terrorism to Pakistan.
Dealing with the US and Nato, given their record of aerial and, now, ground strikes into Pakistan, and Admiral Mike Mullen's recent statement to the US Congressional Armed Forces Committee that the US will increase cross border attacks represent a significant external challenge to the policy the new president may follow.
Pakistan's Army Chief General Pervez Kiyani's immediate response that the country will be defended at all cost and no external force will be allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan, as the bilateral rules of engagement clearly preclude, has drawn Pakistan's red lines.
Despite US economic and military assistance, there are five factors we need to project. First, that neither the US nor Nato has any mandate from the UN Security Council, or the UN Charter to launch attacks within Pakistan. Neither can rely on implied right under any general or specific Security Council resolutions against terrorism or authorisation of ISAF/Nato action in Afghanistan, which was to be originally confined to Kabul and its environs. Besides, the US cannot assert its doctrine of pre-emption, which has no validity in international law.
Second, that Pakistan's actions on its side of the border and the logistic lifeline that it provides constitute the oxygen sustaining the US/ISAF/Nato force in Afghanistan. There is no other logistic option for these forces given that Iran , Central Asia and Russia are closed.
Third, that as stressed by Kiyani, the support of the people of Pakistan would be decisive. US adventurism in Pakistan would exacerbate the government's problems in FATA and would cost the public's support. Even the French government has voiced its reservations.
Fourth, our proposal to fence and selectively mine the border should be revived. This should also be done by Nato on their side.
Afghanistan cannot both protest at cross border movement, which in fact is in both directions, and also question the sanctity of that border, or how we defend and control it. This also applies to the Coalition forces.
Fifth, the international community should at last begin to provide funds for resettling in Afghanistan the almost 2.6 million Afghan refugees still in Pakistan, from whom the Taliban draw considerable strength.
The President now has to evolve and project a negotiation strategy, backed by national consensus, to ensure that a multi-pronged policy against terrorism is not derailed by unilateral actions from the United States.
Thus armed, he should be in a stronger position when negotiating with Bush and other Nato leaders. He has strong cards and must use them.
Tariq Osman Hyder is a retired Pakistani diplomat