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On South Asia Trip, Clinton Makes Clear Cold War Is Over

On South Asia Trip, Clinton Makes Clear Cold War Is Over

Pamela Constable
Washington Post
March 27, 2000
Title: On South Asia Trip, Clinton Makes Clear Cold War Is Over
Author: Pamela Constable
Publication: Washington Post
Date: March 27, 2000

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 26 -- President Clinton's stern warning to Pakistan during his visit here Saturday has left its military government facing a sober new reality: The Cold War strategic alliance with the United States is over, and Pakistan must move to restore democracy and control terrorism in Kashmir or fend for itself in its mounting confrontation with India.

But the choice facing Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is one he may not be willing or able to make, according to analysts here. If he cracks down on insurgent groups fighting in Indian Kashmir, he risks igniting the wrath of powerful Islamic forces inside Pakistan, including segments of the army. If he does not, he risks forfeiting Western economic support and driving his struggling nation deeper into poverty.

"Pakistan must do some very hard thinking now. It cannot sustain its policy on Kashmir and build a viable economy at the same time," said Talaat Massood, a former Pakistani army chief. "We cannot afford to be marginalized, but there are those in Pakistan who want to continue the Cold War for their own interests. I fear the message from Washington is so harsh that it may strengthen those forces."

Before arriving in Pakistan on Saturday, Clinton paid a cordial four-day visit to India and called for a comprehensive economic and strategic relationship with New Delhi. His trip signaled a clear preference for democratic India over military-ruled Pakistan as a future U.S. partner in South Asia and marked the end of the uneasy, arm's-length approach that dominated U.S.-India relations for decades, largely as a result of India's tilt toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

In addition, comments by Clinton and his aides suggested that Washington was moving closer to accepting India's position on Kashmir, the divided Himalayan border region that both India and Pakistan claim. Indian security forces, which control their country's portion of Kashmir, have been under constant attack by Pakistan-based Islamic insurgents who want to "liberate" the predominantly Muslim population there from rule by India, which is majority Hindu.

In interviews and speeches during the week, Clinton said he believed that "elements" of the Pakistani government were involved with the Kashmiri insurgents, that it was "wrong" to attack across the Line of Control separating Indian and Pakistani Kashmir, and that it would be very difficult for the two rivals to resume dialogue as long as violence continues in Kashmir.

Indian officials were delighted by the shift in U.S. policy, which they saw as a long overdue acknowledgment of their country's economic ties and political commonality with the United States. The visit promised to open new doors for U.S.-India partnerships and technology sharing, even though U.S. sanctions imposed after India's nuclear tests in 1998 still restrict such transfers.

Even more important, New Delhi viewed Clinton's critical comments about Pakistan's role in Kashmir, along with his repeated assertions that he would not mediate the dispute, as a vindication of its tough stance on Kashmir and proof that, at long last, Washington was finally casting off its Cold War blinders toward Pakistan's pernicious role in the region.

"The whole purpose of his visit was to tell the Pakistani people that the U.S. supports democracy," said K. Subrahmanyam, an Indian defense and national security expert. "At the end, the lingering image in people's minds will be one of Clinton dancing with village women in [India] and slipping into Pakistan with three decoy planes. Those images will tell the whole world what the nature of states in South Asia is."

In stark contrast to his embrace of India, Clinton's brief stop in Islamabad was hurried, somber and marked by unusually heavy security. There were no joint statements or even photographs of Clinton with Musharraf, and the president's televised speech to the nation made a polite but pointed demand: Pakistan must change or face total isolation by Washington.

Thus, his stopover here completed the shift in the American approach toward the region: an end to the longstanding, Cold War era policy in which military rule in Islamabad was tolerated because Pakistani collaboration was needed to confront Soviet military designs on neighboring Afghanistan and bolster America's security interests in the area.

Although Clinton's stop in Pakistan was controversial within his administration, the combined impact of his visit to both countries left an indelible impression in the region that Washington has chosen democracy over dictatorship in South Asia, and that its willingness to bargain on a range of thorny issues, from trade to nuclear nonproliferation, is no longer hostage to the strategic calculus of the past.

In Pakistan, "Clinton almost behaved as if he were in enemy territory. His visit marks the closure of the U.S.-Pakistani strategic alliance," said Rifaat Hussain, chairman of the department of defense and strategic studies at Quaid-I-Azam University. "Pakistan always assumed it could count on the U.S. to bail it out in a confrontation with India. Now the message from Washington is clear: If you are aggressive, we will side with India. If you don't become part of our values, you are on your own."

Some military analysts suggest that Clinton's rebuff could drive Pakistan to seek closer strategic relations with three traditional and controversial allies in the region: China, a nuclear superpower and longtime rival of India; Iran, a revolutionary Islamic state led by Shiite Muslim clerics; and Afghanistan, an international pariah headed by a fundamentalist Muslim militia.

No one predicts the chill with Washington will prompt Pakistan's military to provoke a serious confrontation with India, let alone a nuclear war between the two countries, both of which tested nuclear weapons in 1998. But some analysts said it could remove any remaining constraints on Islamabad's control over the insurgents in Kashmir, whose violent attacks have escalated in the past several months.

"Clinton has chosen India, and we must take a deep look at the new ground realities. It is time for Pakistan to readjust its geopolitical priorities and rediscover its traditional friends in the region," said Aslam Mirza Beg, a former Pakistani army chief. "We don't need to enter into an arms race with India, but we cannot let Kashmir go. Let Kashmir become a bleeding wound for India. The costs will be heavy on both sides, but heavier for India."

But U.S. officials, whose principal concerns in South Asia are to reduce the threat of terrorism and nuclear war, are betting that a chastised Pakistan will be less likely than before to launch any new aggression against India, and hoping that a triumphant New Delhi may be more willing to reopen negotiations on Kashmir now that it no longer need fear an American interventionist tilt toward Islamabad.

Some Pakistani analysts also say they hope Musharraf--who has said repeatedly he is willing to resume negotiations with India and wants to gradually restore democratic rule at home--will swallow his pride and realize that his best hope to salvage his country of 140 million people from financial ruin and political isolation lies in rescuing its longtime friendship with Washington.

U.S. aid to Pakistan is limited, and economic sanctions have been in place since 1998 because of the nuclear tests. But the ailing country, burdened with $140 million in foreign debt, is heavily dependent on loans and credits from financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Those are likely to be cut off if the United States decides to isolate Islamabad.

Some Pakistani observers say the internal threat from Islamic groups has been exaggerated, and that despite their emotional support for the Kashmiri cause, most Pakistanis are more concerned about their financial problems than the abstract notion of Islamic jihad, or holy war, espoused by the insurgent groups in Kashmir.

"Musharraf has to choose between jihad and modernization, because they cannot coexist," said Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani writer and analyst. "The fundamentalists are ready to pounce on him, but the people are much more worried about surviving than about Kashmir. They still trust Musharraf and they still fear and respect the army. If he does the right thing, they will respect it even more."

While acknowledging Musharraf's dilemma, Rashid said the general has little alternative if he wants to keep what support he has from Washington and prevent his reformist agenda from collapsing. After Musharraf seized power from a democratically elected government in a coup d'etat in October, U.S. officials gave him the benefit of the doubt because of his popularity inside Pakistan. Now they have warned him that their patience is running out.

"Clinton's message was that this is Musharraf's last chance," Rashid said. "He faces a stark choice, with limited time to deliver, but he will not get another reprieve."

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