It wasn’t quite a replay of the nervy Yitzhak Rabin-Yasser Arafat handshake of 1993, with Bill Clinton playing an amicable friend with hands outstretched in the middle. With George W Bush insisting that “these two men are personal friends of mine”, it was more like a visit to the marriage counsellor for Pervez Musharraf and Hamid Karzai. But it would have to do. The Pakistani and the Afghan leaders put on a display of studied control, holding a verbal ceasefire at the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday. But anybody who has been following the words of either Mr Musharraf or Mr Karzai could not have missed the crackle in the air. A day before the trilateral meeting, one could not help but detect dollops of irony when the Afghan President referred to his Pakistani counterpart as ‘my Brother Musharraf’. If there indeed was any irony involved, it definitely wasn’t detected by Mr Musharraf, who stated the following day, “If we carry on the course of accusations and counter-accusations, we will never achieve peace and we will never be brothers.” Ouch.
That the Pakistani-Afghan differences over cross-border movement of terrorists has spilled over to a more personal arena has been evident for some time. For every accusation by Mr Karzai that Pakistan is sheltering the Taliban in its tribal areas, there is the finger-wag from the General: look into your own bedroom and stop blaming your neighbour’s wife. As the host of the dinner, Mr Bush must have been relieved after the dessert plates and the coffee cups were taken away and George and Laura stood at the doorway of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue waving their friends Godspeed. A day after all this bonhomie, Mr Musharraf says in New York that Osama bin Laden is hiding in Kunar. Kunar happens to be a province in Afghanistan. Ouch again.
But Mr Karzai, who did not have any book launch to attend this week, is enjoying the last chuckle. ‘Brother Musharraf’ has, since the White House meeting, managed to upset the usually ‘un-upsettable’ Canadians by asking them to stop whining about losing “four or five soldiers” in Afghanistan while Pakistanis manfully count their “500 coffins”.
And that is not all. In a television interview, the author of In The Line of Fire was asked how much bounty money the Pakistani government was paid by the CIA to deliver terrorists at its door. The fact that “the Government of Pakistan” was paid “prize money” is mentioned on page 237 of Mr Musharraf’s book. On denying that this was the case, he was asked whether he would like to ‘revise’ (read: correct) this in his book. To which, Islamabad’s magic realist squirmed and fumbled: “Yes.
I think that if it is written ‘Government of Pakistan’, yes... Certainly not the government, not the government... no Government of Pakistan hasn’t received anything.” If rumours are to be believed, Mr Karzai was last seen fiercely biting his lamb’s wool cap to stop a guffaw from spreading across the globe.