PRESIDENT Asif Zardari had his baptism of fire during his maiden visit to the US as head of state. Besides addressing the UN General Assembly, he had the occasion to interact with government heads from a number of countries. What must have tested his mettle most were meetings with President Bush and senior members of his Administration. Being in the US on the occasion of the first presidential debate, and having talked to both vice-presidential candidates, he must have had an inkling of what lies ahead after either of the two presidential hopefuls assumes office on January 20. Mr Zardari's weakness lay in two things. First, he was making the visit when the country faced unprecedented economic and social challenges. Second, being an elected president, he was not free to make the sort of promises his predecessor did. On account of the deteriorating law and order situation, he carried little good news for President Bush while, because of the sad state of the economy which led to the downgrading of the country's rating and fears of an imminent default, he badly needed the West's support. Washington was obsessed with the fear of a lethal attack being in the offing from Al-Qaeda men who it believes are being trained in Pakistan's tribal areas. The attack on Islamabad's Marriott Hotel, with the Czech ambassador and two Americans among the casualties, had added manifold to the US worries. While President Zardari was in New York the Afghan ambassador-designate to Pakistan was kidnapped and an exchange of fire took place between Pakistani troops and two US helicopters violating the country's airspace. The events had sent warning bells ringing in Washington. While Mr Bush noted Mr Zardari's concern about violation of Pakistan's territorial sovereignty, the latter failed to extricate any ironclad guarantee that no violation of the sort would take place unless certain conditions were fulfilled, that is, Pakistan was to take action against key Al-Qaeda leaders presumably hiding along the Pak-Afghan border and ensure that there was no crossborder movement from the tribal areas. It was conveyed in no uncertain terms that it was Islamabad's duty as a responsible state to contain any activity hostile to the US from its tribal areas, failing which Washington would act on its own to safeguard what it considered its vital national interests. It was, however, recognised in Washington that it did not suit it if Pakistan was to turn into a failed state on account of the economic crisis it faces. The World Bank was given a nod to agree to $1.3 billion support despite its earlier refusal to help. The Friends of Pakistan too agreed to collect $10 to $15 billion, though it was not clear how long they would take to fulfill the promise. The visit thus can be described as partly successful.