Clinton Pushes for Peace, Democracy in Pakistan
By Charles Babington and Pamela Constable
The president arrived for his six-hour visit in an unmarked plane that landed only after a decoy jet with official markings had touched down first, and a Secret Service agent bearing a resemblance to Clinton disembarked. Clinton then was whisked off to meet Pakistan's military leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, along roads cleared of people and heavily guarded by Pakistani soldiers.
The leaders talked for two hours, then Clinton spoke live on television for 15 minutes, telling Pakistanis that the United States wants to be a friend but warning that Pakistan's prolonged antagonism with India is draining resources badly needed to improve schools, public health and the economy.
"This era does not reward people who struggle in vain to redraw borders with blood," the president said.
In his meeting with Musharraf, Clinton stressed the same key points he made in his TV address, although the tone was a bit firmer. An aide who attended the meeting called it "very serious, very frank." But Musharraf made no concessions, leaving the president with few immediate, concrete achievements to show for his trip here and four earlier days of diplomatic nudging in India.
Musharraf described the meeting in far more upbeat terms, saying in a news conference after Clinton left that the two-hour meeting was "very harmonious and congenial," and adding that the two even compared their golf games. He said that they expressed "shared concerns" on a number of issues, and that Clinton's visit "augurs well" for the future of U.S.-Pakistani relations.
Clinton's decision to visit Pakistan was highly controversial within the administration, partly because of concerns for the president's safety and also because of fears that it would send the wrong message to Musharraf, who seized power from a democratically elected government in October. But Clinton decided to go ahead with the trip in the belief that engaging Pakistan is essential to reducing tensions between Pakistan and India, both of which tested nuclear weapons in 1998.
India and Pakistan have fought several wars over Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region now divided between the two countries. Pakistan escalated tensions last spring by sending troops into an Indian-held section near Kargil, and Musharraf has voiced support for Islamic insurgents who engage in guerrilla attacks in the region.
A senior U.S. official who briefed reporters on Clinton's meeting with Musharraf said the president stressed "the four Rs" with regard to Kashmir: Restraint, respect for the Line of Control that divides the region, renunciation of violence and a renewal of talks with India. But Musharraf made no significant concessions in any of those areas, the official said.
Specifically, U.S. officials said Clinton asked Musharraf to crack down on armed groups based in Pakistan that have been regularly attacking targets in Indian Kashmir. Musharraf, at the news conference, denied that Clinton had raised the issue and said that his regime had nothing to do with sending such groups to fight in India.
"We are not involved in any kind of activities across the Line of Control," he said. The insurgency, he said, is the result of a "popular dynamic" in which the people of Kashmir and all of Pakistan are "emotionally involved. It is not government-sponsored. . . . If some infiltrate, it is not with our knowledge."
Musharraf said he had told Clinton that "Pakistan is ready for dialogue any time, in any place, at any level" with India and that Pakistan "deeply appreciates" Clinton's interest in reducing regional tensions. U.S. involvement would be "necessary" to resolve the Kashmir issue, Musharraf said, but India has adamantly rejected any mediation role by the United States and Clinton has said he will not get involved unless invited by both countries.
One area in which slight progress was made was combating terrorism, officials on both sides said. Musharraf said he had pledged to visit Afghanistan soon and "engage" its Islamic rulers on the issues of training and sheltering terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, whom U.S. officials suspect of masterminding the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. U.S. officials also said Musharraf pledged that Pakistan would not export nuclear weapons technology.
In his television address, Clinton leavened his warnings on Kashmir and nuclear arms with frequent reassurances that the United States wants Pakistan to succeed. The president said he wants good relations with Islamic nations. He opened his speech with a classic Islamic greeting in Arabic, and closed it with an Urdu phrase meaning "Long live Pakistan."
He said he sympathizes with Pakistanis' disappointment in a series of elected governments that proved to be inept and corrupt. He added, however, that "democracy cannot develop if it is constantly uprooted before it has a chance to firmly take hold. . . . The answer to flawed democracy is not to end democracy, but to improve it."
Musharraf's call on Friday for local elections within a year "is a good step," Clinton said. "But the return of civilian democratic rule requires a complete plan, a real road map" for national elections.
Regarding Kashmir, Clinton said he understood Pakistan's concerns about Kashmiri Muslims who want closer ties with Islamic Pakistan than to predominantly Hindu India. "I share your convictions that human rights of all [Kashmir's] people must be respected," he said. "But . . . international sympathy, support and intervention cannot be won by provoking a bigger, bloodier conflict."
Clinton said Pakistan is devoting too much attention and resources to military matters when it suffers grave social problems. "Will endless, costly struggle build good schools for your children?" he asked. "Will it make your cities safer? Will it bring clean water and better health care? Will it narrow the gaps between those who have and those who have nothing? . . . The answer to all these questions is plainly no."
As he did in India, the president renewed his call for Pakistan to dismantle some of its nuclear weapons and sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but was rebuffed.
Clinton had no chance to meet ordinary citizens during his visit, and so for Pakistanis, the only glimpse of the American president came in his televised message, with its confusing signals of empathy and disapproval.
Mohammed Pervez, a waiter who watched from a tea shop, said: "I felt that at least President Clinton has some pity for Pakistan in his heart."
But, Pervez added, Clinton "was wrong to tell the government to stop the freedom fighters [in Kashmir]. This is a religious issue and people want to go."
Others focused on the positive aspects of Clinton's remarks, such as his concern for the poor, and let the criticism slide. "I appreciate his taking the initiative to come here," said David Abdullah, a real estate agent. "People are suffering in this country, and he seems to understand. We need a great leader like him to be our mediator."
Musharraf allowed Clinton to address Pakistanis on television as a price for securing his visit here. Pakistan would have felt rejected and snubbed had Clinton visited India alone.
The tension and high security surrounding the president's visit today underscored how much the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has soured in recent years. Once an ally that provided crucial support to anti-Soviet insurgents fighting in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1980s, Pakistan has provoked U.S. ire in recent years by giving tacit or open support to Islamic groups accused of terrorist acts in other nations.
White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said the president's trip here was worthwhile even if it didn't bear immediate fruit. "I certainly think there is a real value in coming and making the case directly," Lockhart said. "The president did that, both here and in his time in India."
© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company