27 March 2000
The Times of India
India up, Pak down on US agenda, feel Pakistanis
By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service
ISLAMABAD: President Clinton's televised warning to Pakistan to
``meet the difficult challenges'' he outlined or else risk ``even
more isolation'' is forcing many Pakistanis to ask whether
Washington's ``most allied ally'' has finally hit skid row.
The contrast between the effusiveness of the presidential visit to
India and the unsmiling, peremptory nature of the stopover in
Islamabad could not have been more obvious. ``You just have to look
at the footage on PTV'', said Mahmood Sham, editor of the Jang.
Though it does seem as if Clinton was more candid in his televised
address than in his meeting with Musharraf, several analysts here
believe the speech is a sombre indication of where US-Pakistan
relations are headed.
Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, former army chief, claimed that Clinton was
essentially asking Pakistan ``to choose between Kashmir and peace''.
``India has cast a spell on both Clinton and the US administration,
an art which Pakistan does not possess'', he said. ``Now that the
US has cleared its position, Pakistan needs to differentiate between
friend and foe... We should renew friendship with old allies like
China, Iran and Afghanistan.'' Striking an equally angry tone, Hafiz
Mohammad Saeed, the ameer of the Dawa' al-Irshad, told The Friday
Times in an interview that Clinton's ``few-hour visit is an insult
to Pakistan''. He felt the US was looking to India both for
economic reasons and to ``prop India as a counterweight to the
growing influence of China.''
Taking a more nuanced view, Tanvir Ahmed Khan, one of Pakistan's
most respected foreign policy voices, said that overall, the US
President ``has lived up to his promise of assigning a much higher
degree of importance to South Asia''. But he agreed that there has
been a clear shift. ``What Clinton is doing is to strike a new
level of relationship - and a new hierarchy of relations - in which
India is on top and Pakistan's role has in a way got diminished'',
he said. Apart from India's size and clout, Khan feels ``there may
also be a strategic objective, of building a new equilibrium in Asia
where India can be cast in a balancing role with China.''
If Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Maleeha Lodhi, feels
Washington's growing relations with India are a good thing - ``there
is an opportunity for (the US) to inject restraint in India's
behaviour towards its neighbours'' - Gen Hamid Gul, former head of
the ISI, thinks the Indo-US relationship is bad news for South Asia.
``By showing that he is close to the Indian position on Kashmir,
Clinton is exacerbating tensions'', he said. ``It could encourage
those in India who are seeking a limited war with Pakistan.''
The Jang's Sham, however, believes that Clinton's televised advice
to Pakistan was realistic and sensible. ``Sabhi haqeeqat-pasand
logon ko unka khitab achcha laga hoga (all realistic people would
have liked his speech)'', he said. ``We should try and build our
country in a solid way. The Kashmir issue is holding us back. If
our only ally is saying this, we should be doing some rethinking''.
While acknowledging that Pakistan's relationship with the US was
``uneasy, limited and conditional'' and that ``a definition of their
relations still eludes the two countries'', Tanvir Khan cautioned
India against reading too much into the US President's statements.
``In his TV speech, Clinton certainly reflected some of India's
concerns'', he said, ``but all his public utterances have been
crafted with great care. There is a touch of ambiguity in
everything so that even when a message is being conveyed to one
country, the other country is also brought in.'' Rather than
explicitly taking sides, ``Clinton was playing the role of a
Gen Gul was more forthright in his advice to India. ``The Americans
are trying to corral the Indian mare into their stable'', he said.
``They are worried about Russia under Putin, and a possible
Russia-China axis which India could join. So they want to hold
India back. I know the US government very well; they are all
infidels. The Indian leaders are not clever enough to deal with the
US. They should know that anybody who gets too close to them will
always end up worse off.''