March 2000 News

Clinton Not To Mediate On Kashmir: US

8 March 2000
News International
Amir Mateen

Washington DC: Confirming President Bill Clinton''s Islamabad visit, a senior United States administration official said the American president was ''not going to mediate the Kashmir dispute.'' ''He will go to Pakistan because it is important to a number of key United States national interests that he engage with Pakistan at this time,'' the official said. But he made clear that Clinton would go to Pakistan to ''avoiding the threat of a conflict in South Asia; promoting the return of democracy to Pakistan; fighting terrorism; preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and creating an environment of regional peace and security.'' Senior US officials were locked in discussions with their Pakistani counterparts led by Pakistan''s Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi to work out the logistics of President Clinton''s visit. Clinton''s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger called General Musharraf on Tuesday to convey the decision and to discuss some details of the programme. The White House also revealed that in the process of making the decision, Clinton also consulted Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee on the phone (on Tuesday morning) and informed him of what he was doing. A few details that were made public till the filing of this report were that the trip to Pakistan would be a relatively short visit of several hours to Islamabad on his way back from India, most likely on March 25. There are no plans of the President staying overnight in Pakistan. In all likelihood, Clinton will go inside the city and not just stay at the Islamabad Airport. Where exactly would he stay in Islamabad was still being charted out in meetings with Pakistani officials. The Clinton administration strongly defended Clinton''s decision of adding Pakistan to his South Asia visit. In a background briefing at the White House on Tuesday afternoon, two US officials, who were recently in Pakistan, were not apologetic about the extension to Pakistan, much to the chagrin of the Indian sympathisers. But at the same time the Clinton administration spoke its mind about the concerns they had against the military government and which they intended to raise during the trip. In what sounded like a blue print of the presidential agenda in Pakistan, a senior US official said President Clinton decided in Pakistan''s favour ''because it is important to a number of key United States national interests that he engage with Pakistan at this time''. ''Our decision to travel to Pakistan is not an endorsement'' of the military government ''but a statement of continuing engagement with Pakistan,'' one of the officials said. We cannot predict when the next flare-up might occur in this region, but tensions are higher there now than at any time since the last Indian-Pakistani war in 1971, he pointed out. We are concerned that, through misunderstandings or gradual escalation, the two countries could once again find themselves in conflict. The president has a responsibility to our nation and to the world to do what he can to avoid such a dangerous development. He emphasised the decision to go to Pakistan is because the president believes this is in US national interests for the long run, and not to have gone there would possibly have set that back. The president will go to Pakistan because the Pakistani nation is a friend, not because he approves of or acquiesces in the government of General Pervaiz Musharraf. To appease India, it was made clear that Clinton was not going to mediate the Kashmir dispute. However, observers agreed that the commitment would not restrict him in talking about Kashmir. The US interest of creating an environment of peace in South Asia has the resolution of the Kashmir issue inherent in it. The official hinted at this when he said Clinton would continue his consistent efforts to advance the US interests as he had over the last seven years and as he did in his meeting with then prime minister Nawaz Sharif at Blair House last 4th of July. There is also a possibility that Clinton will talk about giving Nawaz Sharif a fair trial. Many American strategists, particularly at the influential Brookings Institute, have been suggesting that Clinton should address directly to the people through TV in Pakistan. Since there was no parliament that might be the best way of reaching out to Pakistani people, say American experts. The US official also mentioned Sharif as somebody with whom Clinton reached understanding on that fateful day of July 4 which ended a tense conflict in Kargil. President Clinton, said the official, believes that it''s crucial that he carries a message of restraint and dialogue to both capitals on this trip. He also wants to assure that we have lines of communication that may be necessary and useful in a crisis. Terrorism is another vital American interest at play in Pakistan and next door in Afghanistan. Terrorists in their camps in Afghanistan, especially Usama bin-Laden, all too clearly aimed directly at America and American lives. This will be high on the president''s agenda. Democracy in Pakistan was interrupted on October 12 last year. Some have urged the president to avoid Pakistan to demonstrate our displeasure at the military coup there. In fact, that action would be welcomed by the very anti-democratic and militant elements in Pakistan that represents the long-term threat to that country''s system. And it would dishearten those in Pakistan who have stood for secular, Western-oriented democracy for 50 years. We do not want to break faith with them. The president is convinced that this is the right decision that best protects the interests of the American people. However, the official made it clear that there was no checklist of actions that Pakistan needed to take for the visit to be scheduled. We did not give them a checklist, and they did not give us one either. But we have been in close consultation with them for some time, and the president has concluded that the time is right for a visit. On judging the performance of the military government, the official pointed out that there were two sides of the coin. On the negative side, the Constitution remains suspended. Provincial and national assemblies remain suspended. An unknown number of politicians remains under detention without charge. Judges were required to sign loyalty oaths a few weeks ago. And to date, there has been no comprehensive road map or time-frame for a return to civilian democratic rule. On the more positive side, he said the Press and non-governmental organisations were allowed to operate freely. There has been a commitment to local elections this year. There have been efforts to prosecute corruption, to go after tax evasion. This is the accountability campaign that General Musharraf launched. And the trial of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif appears to be proceeding properly, including with due process. He said it was too early to judge the record of the new government. These will clearly be the focus of the president''s concerns that he''ll express when he is there. We do hope to hear more from General Musharraf on these subjects, especially democracy, when he speaks to the Pakistani people on March 23, which is their national day, and will be two days before the president arrives. On terrorism, the official said the Pakistan government had taken certain actions, including the initial phase of the deweaponisation programme to try to get guns off the streets and to ban the public display. General Musharraf has announced that he intends to go to Kandahar. He has not taken that trip yet, but he intends to go there to speak to Mulla Omar, and they have said publicly that the three issues on General Musharraf''s agenda in Kandahar will be what is referred to the Afghan scenario, the idea of how to bring about a settlement there in the fighting; secondly, bin-Laden; and thirdly, closing down terrorist training camps. He said the US was interested in seeing some concrete results. Replying to a question, he said this trip was primarily a trip to India. On the issue of CTBT, the official said there were no promises involved at this stage. ''Sattar has made the case for signature. But to date it has not taken place, and that, therefore, will continue to be one of the things that we will raise with General Musharraf and other leaders when we''re. When asked if Clinton would meet any opposition leaders in Pakistan, he could not give any schedule at this stage.''


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