26 March 2000

Dateline Islamabad: Clinton does some plain speaking

26 March 2000
The Times of India

Clinton does some plain speaking in Pakistan

By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service

ISLAMABAD: Sticking to a tight schedule that admitted no
possibility for soft-sell, President Clinton swung in and out of
Pakistan on Saturday to express his ``very real concern'' over what
the US officials say is the ``direction Pakistan is taking''.

In a 15-minute televised address to the Pakistani people, Clinton's
carefully-textured tone could not hide the bluntness of his message.
He stressed the importance of democracy and called on Pakistan to be
``secure in its borders, friendly with its neighbours''.

He appealed for a return to the Lahore process and said Pakistan
``must create the conditions to allow dialogue (with India) to
succeed''. On Kashmir, while he said he understood Pakistan's
concerns, ``international sympathy, support and intervention cannot
be won by provoking a bigger, bloodier conflict...No matter how
great the grievance, it is wrong to support attacks on civilians
across the Line of Control''.

According to White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, the talks between
Clinton and General Pervez Musharraf - both of whom were accompanied
by senior officials and aides- were ``straightforward, serious,
frank and very direct''. All told, the meeting, lasted 100 minutes.

Lockhart said Clinton stressed the need for the rapid restoration of
``civilian democratic government at the national level'' as well as
his ``four R's'' formula: restraint, respect for the Line of
Control, renewal of dialogue, and rejection of violence. Clinton
also told Musharraf that there was no role for the US as mediator in
Kashmir unless both India and Pakistan request it to play such a

>From Lockhart's briefing - and from the more extended off-the record
observations made by a senior administration official -it would
appear that the Indian government's concerns over what it calls
``cross-border terrorism'' did not figure as prominently or
concretely in Clinton's talks with Musharraf as New Delhi might have
hoped. The only specific point US officials were willing to
disclose was Clinton's request for Pakistan's help in apprehending
Osama bin Laden and in tracing Don Hutchings, the American tourist
kidnapped in Kashmir several years ago by terrorists linked to the
Harkat-ul-Ansar. Asked whether the training camps run by the
Harkat-ul-Mujahideen came up for discussion, the official said,
``There was no commitment with regard to the H.U.M.''

At a Press conference later in the evening, Musharraf played down
the most contentious aspects of Clinton's televised address,
especially those relating to the use of violence to change borders.
``These issues never came up in my discussion with him''.

He, however, admitted that the issue of ``clemency'' for deposed
Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is facing trial on
charges of treason and hijacking, figured in the talks.Musharraf
said his response was that the case is in the court.

According to a Pakistani source, the Clinton-Musharraf talks yielded
nothing concrete as far as the Americans were concerned. ``The
general gave no timetable for the restoration of democracy, nor did
he give in to what the US wanted on proliferation, terrorism and
Kashmir''. If this assessment is correct, it would seem as if the
Clinton camp consciously sought to drive home their message through
the president's televised speech. The draft was apparently worked
on till the last minute and gave a very different indication of US
policy than what Lockhart's anodyne account of the talks suggested.

Clinton's speech has certainly confused Pakistani analysts and
confounded the government. Judging from Musharraf's Press
conference, the `silver lining' is the repeated promise Clinton made
to remain engaged with the region and work to ``help both sides
restore the promise and the process of Lahore''. ``The context is
Kashmir'', insisted Musharraf. ``The US will facilitate matters''.

A somewhat prescient cartoon in The Nation on Saturday morning
summed up the ambiguity well. Clinton is shown saying ``We condemn
the violence in Kashmir''. The same remarks are reported by PTV as
``President Clinton has condemned state terrorism in Kashmir'' while
Zee says ``President Clinton has condemned cross-border terrorism in
Kashmir''. A joke, perhaps, but one reflecting the equivocation
that has characterised a lot of Clinton's pronouncements in South

India and Pakistan have chosen to read whatever they want into his
utterances but in the process, what the US says has become the
subject of discussion and deconstruction. Which, at the end of the
day, is what mediation is all about.

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