That there was so much store set by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on his American visit was traditional; Pakistani leaders since Liaquat Ali Khan have placed a great deal of emphasis on their American visits. They have been blatant enough to make the Americans aware that these visits are not just highly prized by Pakistani leaders for their intrinsic value, but also for home audiences, often enough their basic support group. In this case, the basic support group consisted not so much as of the PPP as a whole, but party co-Chairman Asif Zardari, who had to be convinced that Gilani was the right person to interact with the American Presidents (present as well as future), and Gilani was perhaps the first Pakistani to have meetings with Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, who are the respective presidential standard-bearers for the Republican and Democratic parties in the November election. One of those two will be the next American President, and thus responsible for the conduct of the War On Terror. But perhaps it should not be ignored that the US visit, and thus the meeting with President Bush, preceded the Pakistani PM's meeting with the Indian PM and the Afghan President on the sidelines of, and at, the SAARC Summit. This made it certain that the themes of the Washington meeting would to an extent be repeated in Colombo. It also ensured that the lessons of Washington would be repeated in Colombo. The main theme of substance that came from Washington was the activities of the ISI, which President Bush was sure was working against American interests, particularly in the tribal areas, which the USA sees as crucial in its War On Terror. But at the time President Bush gave an unusually strong assurance of US respect for Pakistani sovereignty, American missiles in those same tribal areas had once again showed how far the Americans thought mere Third-World sovereignty really extended: not all that far, especially where it came in conflict, or rather touch, with First-World needs. But it seems that the repeat of the raids on the tribal areas was not the main issue. In essence, the case of Dr Afia Siddiqui, which had already broken, but which the Pakistani media had not yet blown up, was more crucial to depictions of Pakistani sovereignty. The relevance was because of the deposed judges. What if at any time a superior-court judge had ordered the production of Dr Afia before himself? And what if she decided to comply with the order, rather than remain in prison at the disposal of the American court which has only now begun to try her? A lot of light might have been thrown on the American practice of 'rendition', but the embarrassment this would have caused the American administration and many of its employees and 'contractors', would have rendered nugatory the embarrassment suffered by the Pakistani President upon the restoration of the Chief Justice. This could not be allowed, so the only mention of Musharraf came from Gilani, who said he told Bush that Musharraf was no longer relevant. As events have unfolded so far, it seems that the Americans have at least consented to an attempt being made on Musharraf's Presidency, something which they have always guarded carefully so far. Either way, they are not just with the victors, but have been so " actively " all along. They are already with the PPP, which has kept its links from the time of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was Foreign Minister under Ayub, and thus in close contact with the Americans from then. It did him no disservice to be American-educated, just as being American-educated did his daughter Benazir no disservice when it became a matter of winning American favour to get a military regime replaced. However, Gilani lacks this particular advantage, though he too is the son of a federal minister. But he has the advantage of timing; for all the Americans need before consenting to Musharraf being given a safe exit, is an assurance that their interests in the region, not just Pakistan, will be safeguarded. That guarantee both the PPP and the PML-N make. Gilani made sure in the USA that this was understood as far as the PPP was concerned. But in return, in Colombo, he took seriously the Indian and Afghan accusation that the ISI was behind the embassy blast. This accusation was used to serve a number of purposes. One of course was to embarrass Pakistan, but another was to draw closer, a purpose for which India gave Afghanistan aid just like any other big power. On the face of it, it suits the Americans to have the Karzai regime close to the Musharraf regime, but India wants its share of the pie, and the USA has decided to back it in its desire to be the paramount power in South Asia. Therefore, it encourages its man in Kabul to be encouraging of Indian ambitions, and to behave with India. This includes maintaining a distance with Pakistan, as far as is possible when the major part of the Afghan population has ethnic links with Pakistanis (and none with any Indians) and a transit trade coming through Pakistan (and not India). It also does not suit the USA to have its main ally in South and Central Asia too friendly with its other main ally, which also are bordering states. Therefore, the Indians and the Afghans gave the Pakistanis comfort only at the end, promising with some reluctance a mere re-starting of the peace process on which the American government sets so much store. It does so because the one thing it does not want is a conflict between the South Asian neighbours, which escalates to nuclear. India also does not want to cross the nuclear threshold, but it also wants to hold on to Kashmir, even though this means committing human rights abuses aplenty and violating the Kashmiri right to self-determination, so it will resist any meaningful talks with Pakistan. Afghanistan knows that even though Pakistan is crucial in the War on Terror, Afghanistan is more so, and it will exploit its position as much as possible. That was the reason Gilani did not shine at Colombo, even though he thinks he did. E-mail: