25 March 2000

Clinton in Islamabad: Stage set for blunt exchange of views

25 March 2000
The Times of India

Stage set for blunt exchange of views

By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service

ISLAMABAD: After a relatively laid-back tour of India, President
Bill Clinton arrives here on Saturday for what is likely to be a
fairly testy meeting with Pakistan's chief executive, General Pervez

According to an official spokesman, the two heads of government will
meet twice along with senior aides. Clinton will also have a
15-minute one-on-one with the sole constitutional ornament the
military regime has to offer, President Rafiq Tarar, before making a
live televised address to the Pakistani people.

Though US officials have indicated that what Clinton has in mind is
a monologue rather than a dialogue on anti-American terrorism,
nuclear weapons and Kashmir- the three top concerns- the Pakistani
government insists it will use the summit-level meeting to put
across its point of view on the core issue of Kashmir. General
Musharraf has publicly disagreed with the US president's remarks
that ``elements within the Pakistani government'' were supporting
those waging violence in Kashmir, and any presidential lecture on
the matter is not likely to get very far.

Most of Clinton's public utterances in India revolved around the
need for ``restraint''. Though his words could be interpreted in
more than one way, Indian observers assumed that his remarks on the
LoC and the impossibility of a military solution to the Kashmir
problem were aimed mainly at Islamabad. Pakistani analysts and
ordinary Pakistanis as well have taken a different view, with some
insisting that Islamabad's stand on Kashmir and the need for
dialogue have been vindicated. What Clinton has done is to reaffirm
the centrality of the Kashmir dispute right there on Indian soil,''
a senior banker told this correspondent.

According to General Mirza Aslam Beg, former army chief and a
trenchant critic of Musharraf's coup, Clinton's advice on respecting
the sanctity of the Line of Control was primarily targetted at
India. ``Clinton's stress on the LoC has to be seen in the context
of what Indian leaders have been saying about the possibility of
`limited wars' with Pakistan,'' he told The Times of India.

However, he maintained that Clinton's five-hour visit to Pakistan
was akin to an insult. ``The US wants to develop a strategic
relationship with India. We stand nowhere, as a matter of fact,''
he said. But this imbalance was entirely Pakistan's fault, he felt.
``Whether it is democracy, the role of the army, the state of the
economy, we have made a mess of things. The enemy is not outside,
it is within....If somebody thinks we are not the kind of people
they want to have truck with, I think they are justified.''

The feeling that the Clinton visit will not generate much benefit
for Pakistan, at least in the short-run, is shared by others.
Mahmood Sham, the Karachi-based editor-in-chief of the Jang told The
Times of India: ``I am not expecting much; it's just that contact
will be revived.'' And how did he react to what Clinton had been
saying on Indo-Pak relations? ``Bhai pehle aap unhein chhodiye,
Phir ham dekhenge (First you let him go. Then we shall see)''.

Aziz Siddiqui of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a
non-official organisation, said there is no optimism or joy at the
fact that Clinton is coming to Islamabad after all. ``But, I
suppose given how hard India tried to prevent a Pakistan stopover,
there would have been widespread unhappiness had he not come. It
would have been seen as a rebuff not just to the government but to
the people of Pakistan.''

Siddiqui dismissed Musharraf's plan for the election of local-level
bodies, announced on March 23, saying that he did not have a mandate
to dictate such a process. ``The plan itself, with its partyless
framework, will divide and fragment the people further on ethnic and
tribal lines. It is completely self-contradictory.''

No comments: