PRESIDENT Asif Zardari set aside all acceptable norms of protocol to be around at the press conference jointly addressed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and US Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke in Islamabad on Wednesday. Mr Holbrooke is visiting Pakistan on a 'special directive' of President Barack Obama to assess the damage caused by the ongoing military operation in Malakand Division and review measures being taken for the rehabilitation of the internally displaced persons. It was good to hear him announce an increase of $200 million in aid for the IDPs following President Zardari's request for additional assistance. This will be subject to Congressional approval. Mr Holbrooke spoke on a broad range of issues, while reiterating his government's commitment to extend full cooperation to Islamabad in defeating militants and strengthening democracy in Pakistan. But some of his observations about domestic politics cannot go unnoticed. It was disturbing to find him disclosing that Mr Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif had already reached a consensus on the controversial 17th Amendment to balance powers between the President and the Prime Minister. There is no denying that democracy cannot take root without doing away with the draconian amendments made to the constitution by General Musharraf to perpetuate him in power. But it would have been better had the announcement of scrapping the 17th Amendment been made either by President Zardari or Mian Nawaz rather than by a foreign envoy. This would only strengthen the perception that the ruling leadership is acting on US diktat not only on the issues related to the fight against extremism, but also on other important national matters. The Obama Administration needs to understand that it has nothing to do with the internal affairs of a sovereign state that had suffered enough during the past nine years of military dictatorship for its capitulation to the US instead of exercising independence in framing its policies. Perhaps what is required is courage by our own leadership to tell foreign powers not to cross a certain limit. It bears repeating that if the United States is helping us by providing helicopters or night vision goggles for our troops, it is also in its own interest. Pakistan doubtless needs assistance to keep fighting this war, but for that our leadership should not compromise its dignity.