Low-voltage tour plugs into Pakistan's gloomy mood

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The Independent Online
The Queen has used her visit to Pakistan to underline the links that exist with Britain. But will Britain continue to use to its diplomatic weight to push for a solution to the problem of Kashmir?

At the press conference in Islamabad to announce the details of the state visit to Pakistan, a local journalist suggested that the Queen might like to apologise for "a hundred years of British misrule". If the royal party scrutinise the Pakistani press, they will be gratified to find that this proposal has been treated with contempt.

An incandescent letter in the daily Dawn demands whether the Queen should apologise for "bequeathing to us, 1: the most distinguished civil service in the world; 2: irrigation and railway networks which were the envy of the world; 3: the rule of law..." An essay in the same paper anatomises the long falling off of Pakistan since the Queen's last visit, and quotes Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, praising the "genius" of the "Britishers".

In The News, another correspondent writes that "I am glad to hear that Her Majesty will not visit Swat" [where in 1961 she was the guest of the Wali of Swat]. "Swat's condition has become deplorable. Whoever comes to the place leaves feeling completely disgusted." It remains only for someone to write a column proposing that Pakistan should apologise to the Queen for making such a hash of things.

A lot of water has flown down the Indus since 1961. When the beautiful young queen glided through Karachi, standing in the back of a gleaming white Cadillac, President Ayub Khan, Pakistan's first military dictator, at her side, the streets were heaving with well-wishers. Today, her gloved, waving hand was glimpsed through the tinted glass of a Range Rover by the massed students of Karachi Public School, the brass band of Habib Public School, playing For "She's a Jolly Good Fellow" with more enthusiasm than precision, the Police Band ("Colonel Bogey") and small knots of idlers, drawn by the noise. Anglo-Pakistani intimacy persists, indeed has grown stronger (every second person you meet here has lived in Britain), but, as elsewhere, the monarchy has lost voltage.

During her visit, the Queen has watched Pakistan play South Africa at cricket - the free entry to the ground in her honour unfortunately ended in a baton charge and tear gas - taken delivery of a gaudily painted model truck and an equally gaudy bedspread, and been invested by President Farook Leghari with Pakistan's highest award. She, in turn, invested the President with the Order of the Bath, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with the Order of St Michael and St George. Benazir Bhutto, by contrast, got nothing but a handshake and a particularly warm smile. It was Ms Bhutto who last year, while still prime minister, invited the Queen to Pakistan. Since then, however, she has been deposed for misgovernment, lost an election by a landslide, and had bank accounts in Switzerland frozen on suspicion that they contain funds looted from the nation. Her appearance at the banquet to welcome the Queen - and her announcement the same day that she will sue her chief accuser, Senator Saifu Rehman, in a foreign court - indicate that she plans to stand and fight.

The Queen used the occasion of her speech before both houses of the National Assembly Islamabad on Wednesday to scold Pakistan and India for their failure to get along. "We all know ... that animosity retards development, that development requires trust, that lack of trust closes off opportunities," she said. "Unfortunately, true peace has been a stranger to South Asia ... There are few things that would do more to unleash the region's potential than the lifting of the barriers between its two largest nations."

The word Kashmir did not figure in her speech - which surprised some here by its overtly political character - but in an obvious reference to the 50-year-old problem and the recent decision by the two nations to resume negotiations, she said: "It brings the friends of both countries only pleasure to see the commitment both have made this year to solve contentious issues through talks. Britain, as a friend of both, can only urge a new spirit of openness and understanding."

The big question in both countries surrounding the state visit is whether Britain has more on its mind than merely "urging". Last month in New York, the Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral believed he had secured, for the first time, United States consent to the notion that the Kashmir problem should be solved bilaterally. India has long been wary of what it regards as the Labour Party's propensity to side with Pakistan over Kashmir; conversely, Pakistan clearly hopes that the new Labour government will move off the fence in its direction. The continuing exchanges of fire across Kashmir's "Line of Control", which last week claimed 47 lives, could act as a goad for it to do so.

However, the British government's offer to use its "good offices" to resolve the dispute, made by Derek Fatchett, minister in the Foreign Office, during a visit to the region in the spring, was turned down very flat by India. It is doubtful the Government will risk the good vibrations of a state visit to push the idea any harder.

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