President Asif Zardari has taken the itinerary of his predecessor, and made it his own. In that way, he has managed to get away from Pakistan at a time when it is passing through a crisis, just at the same time as dramatic news in the world financial markets caused them to come under severe pressure, the sort that has plunged Pakistan into crisis along with other Third World countries, and which should have struck when first the savings and loans bubble burst in the USA years ago. Now the famous Lehmann Brothers brokerage house has gone under for the same reason - too much bad debt - the pressure is likely to increase on oil and food prices, which have been going down. But Zardari chose to address one of the most pressing problems, that of American attacks on Pakistani soil, with British PM Gordon Brown, and while committing Pakistan to the War On Terror, calling (very politely) on the Americans not to launch direct attacks on Pakistani territory. Pakistan might be beset by a number of problems, but it is in an uproar not over a problem, but over a direct violation of its territory. With American heli-borne troops crossing over into Pakistan, in order to stop Afghan militants from seeking a safe haven in Pakistan, the Pakistan army has been seen as failing in its primary duty, that of defending Pakistani territory. The first raid was not resisted, but the second was. The army wanted to take the credit for the resistance, but not for the natural concomitant of firing upon American troops. That was firmly denied. Yet the US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee was among the leading US and allied commanders who turned up to talk to their Pakistani counterparts, a reasonable enough indicator that American troops did come under friendly fire, though it also seems that no American troops were killed. The USA is taking the War On Terror a notch higher. Its leadership, both civilian and military, is willing to convert Pakistan into another Cambodia, in order to gain victory in the 'other' theatre. The Cambodian example comes to mind because Cambodia, like Pakistan, was an ally of the USA during one of its wars, the one it fought against Vietnam. It lost in Vietnam, but before that, it ruined Cambodia. Cambodia, it might be remembered, went through Pol Pot and his regime before a return to a sort of sanity. There are two differences. First, instead of Pol Pot, who swept away everything, and began with the Year Zero, Pakistan has the Taliban, who may want to sweep away everything, but are so far focused on girl's schools, video stores and barbershops. Second, and much more important, Pakistan is a nuclear state. It is not just an American nightmare for Pakistan and its nuclear weapons to be taken over by the Taliban, but one which it shares with a lot of Western countries. Invading Pakistan will not really solve that problem, but create a new one. If it is assumed (as can be safely done) that the USA knows where Pakistan's nuclear weapons are, invasion does seem to be the safest route, because it prevents the movement of the arsenal. But invasion, as Iraq has shown, creates the problem of occupation, even with a ruling class which wishes nothing more than the pleasure of the occupier. After all, Iraq was occupied by the British after World War I saw the collapse of the Ottoman Empire without the kind of resistance that the Americans have faced, mainly because Iraqi nationalism had not yet developed into a force capable of causing people to die for it. The invader should also realise that death does not demand nationalism, but any ideology will do. In this respect, Islam is more than adequate in encouraging people to die. If the Americans could invade Pakistan, they would. No one is more aware that the Pakistani people do not look favourably upon the USA, particularly after it started the War On Terror, and do not support its drive to security, particularly when the 'collateral damage' includes Pakistani citizens. The USA cannot find the assurance it needs to ensure that Pakistan either acts to ensure its interests, or lets it so act. The USA wants the terrorists eliminated from Pakistan's tribal areas. It will either do so itself or it will let the Pakistan army do so. But if it is to use its own means, it must not be hampered in any way. This was the argument it used in Cambodia, and it is using this argument again to justify its incursions into the tribal areas. This is why the US is blaming Pakistan's ISI for a host of sins, some of which were not just beyond its capacity, but even beyond its imagination. The Pakistan Army is also being played with, particularly its reluctance even to fire upon US troops. This was shown in the denials that were issued after the report of the firing upon the American heli-borne invasion force. Indeed, the original justification, at least to the military, for Pakistan joining the American side in the War On Terror, was the fact that the Pakistan army could not fight the US army because it was not so trained. The prospect of American invasion was held out, and it was felt that the army could not defend Pakistan. At the time, the army was ruling through COAS General Pervez Musharraf and his provincial governors, and its right to rule was based upon its ability to defend Pakistani soil. If that ability was challenged, then its right to rule could be challenged. Its right to rule has been challenged anyhow by parties both popular and ready to support the USA in its War On Terror, so the army is not that important a player that its image must be protected. Also, the USA wants to find out how the political leadership, symbolised by the Zardari presidency, is better than the military rule Musharraf as president symbolised. Previously, the military leadership did not allow invasion of Pakistan soil by American troops, now it apparently does, but leaves it to the COAS to make populist statements about resistance. E-mail: