35, 70 or 170? How many will accompany Gilani to the US?

July 22nd, 2008 - 4:20 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Nawaz Sharif

Islamabad, July 22 (IANS) What will be the size of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s delegation on his visit to Washington next week - 35, 70 or 170? “But even more important than the numbers was the composition of the delegation (as) reported in the media,” Dawn newspaper said Tuesday.

According to these reports, Asif Ali Zardari, co-chair of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that leads the country’s ruling coalition, would also have travelled with the prime minister and had invited former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of coalition partner Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to accompany him.

“The media reports caused a mini-diplomatic crisis in Washington. US officials were seen asking Pakistani journalists if the reports were true.

“They said that if Mr. Zardari came with the prime minister, it would create an embarrassing situation for President George W. Bush. Everybody in Washington would know who in the Pakistani delegation has the real power,” Dawn said.

Noting that the US would be obliged to provide full protocol to Gilani but not to Zardari, the newspaper said: “Luckily, Zardari got the message and decided not to come. Sharif also is not coming, although he may come later on a private visit,” the newspaper added.

Now that this diplomatic crisis is over, all attention is focussed on the size of the delegation.

The Pakistani prime minister and the embassy in Washington, as also the Americans, would like to keep the delegation small, with nobody wanting more than 50 people, Dawn said, asking: “But can they keep it small?”

In this context, it pointed out that even President Pervez Musharraf, during his previous US visits, invariably brought along some 100 people.

“And Gilani has to listen to others as well,” the newspaper added.

On his part, Gilani had written to the embassy urging it to “maintain austerity” during his visit.

He and senior members of his delegation will stay at the Willard Hotel close to the White House. Others will stay at less expensive places in Washington or nearby Virginia.

The prime minister also has advised the embassy not to hire limousines and use ordinary cars and vans instead.

“Will his advices be followed? The signs are that they cannot be implemented even if the PM and the embassy both try to do so,” Dawn maintained.

For instance, the information ministry is learnt to have sent a list of 40 journalists who will be travelling with the prime minister.

“When the embassy in Washington suggested that 40 were too many, the objection was leaked to the media to expose ‘the enemies of press freedom’, as an article criticising the move said,” Dawn reported.

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