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January 29, 2000


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Pro-India groups happy with US warning to Pakistan

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Arthur J Pais

Pro-India lobbyists in Washington, who were disappointed by Bill Clinton's assertion a few days ago that there was no evidence of Pakistani government supporting the hijacking of Indian Airlines jet, are now rejoicing now that the Clinton administration waggled a finger at Pakistan on Thursday.

Asserting that it is "not business as usual" with Pakistan, James P Rubin, the state department's chief spokesman, warned Islamabad that America could brand Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism if its armed forces continued to support the terrorist group (Harkal ul-Mujahideen) that reportedly masterminded the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight.

Rubin said America was not making a threat but articulating "a comment about realities".

Political observers in Washington believe that though America has been preparing to warn Pakistan for a long time, the President and his advisers kept postponing the warning hoping that Pakistan would dissociate itself from terrorist groups and take action against them.

If the Secretary of State determines any government has "repeatedly provided support of international terrorism directly," Rubin said, then she would be "prepared to designate that country as a state sponsor of terrorism."

He said the possible link between Pakistani military and Harkat ul-Mujahideen "is a matter of extreme concern to us." He reminded Islamabad that US had already declared the organization a terrorist group.

The warning came as Clinton is deciding if he should include Pakistan as a part of his March visit to the subcontinent.

Many Indian American lobbying groups and pro-India congressmen like Gary L Ackerman (Democrat, New York) have urged Clinton to boycott Pakistan and send a powerful message that Pakistan's meddling in Kashmir and backing for militant and financier of radical causes, Osama bin Laden, cannot be ignored.

"The President should seriously weigh what signal the United States would be sending to the world if he decides to include Pakistan during his sojourn to south Asia," Ackerman said. "I strongly believe that the President must not include Pakistan in his south Asian itinerary unless the administration gets iron-clad guarantees on at least two key issues:

"Firstly, the junta in Islamabad must undertake verifiable steps to stop its proxy war against India, especially in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This means, in effect, that terrorist organizations such as the Harkat ul-Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Toiba must be banished from Pakistani soil. This means that the regime in Islamabad must close down all the training camps that churn out these terror outfits. This means that Pakistan cannot be fully recognized among world's decent nations until it hangs out the sign that says: 'Terrorists Not Welcomed'.

"Secondly, the military dictator now illegitimately ruling the people of Pakistan must give a date-certain schedule to hold democratic elections in which all political parties and political leaders could participate. The elections, which should be conducted under international supervision, must allow for genuine democracy to flourish. Controlled or managed elections will be unacceptable to the international community."

If Musharraf fails to conduct a date-certain, free and fair elections under international supervision or if the elections are manipulated one way or the other, the United States must retain the option of imposing severe economic sanctions against Islamabad, he added.

"Usurpers of power throughout the world, including the junta in Islamabad, must be made to realize that there is a heavy price to pay if democracy is throttled in their nations."

Speaking at reception to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Constitution of the republic of India at the New India House (Indian Consulate) in New York on January 26, Ackerman, a leading member of the House International Relations Committee and co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said India is excited about Clinton's visit.

"During my last visit, almost everyone in New Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta asked me one simple question: 'Is he coming? And when is he coming?' The reference, of course, was to President Clinton's proposed trip to India. Yes, the President will be visiting India --- during the third week of March.

"This visit, coming more than two decades after President Carter's trip to that part of the world, will be an important milestone in our two nations' relations. It will lay the foundations of the parameters that govern our two nations' ties in the new millennium," he said.

Asserting that US-India relations has been showing signs of a new sense of maturity and realism after the Kargil crisis, he said:

"It is my belief that both New Delhi and Washington have taken the morally correct step by coming together to address the issue of international terrorism. I applaud the Clinton administration and the Vajpayee government for setting up a special Joint Working Group to address the issue of terrorism. As last month's hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane showed, terrorism, especially state-sponsored terrorism, has to be tackled by democratic nations in a united and determined fashion.

"India and the United States must work jointly ... to locate, nab and try the Pakistan-Afghanistan-based hijackers," Ackerman said. "If Pakistan co-operates in this endeavor, as they should, it would be a welcome signal. However, if they don't, the hijackers and their sponsors must realize that the long arm of the law from democratic nations such as the US and India will catch up with them."

Ackerman recalled a recent speech titled 'Sustaining Democracy in the 21st Century' at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, by Secretary of State Madeline Albright. She had said:

"A military coup or other violent seizure of power moves democratic development back to square one. It brings to power authorities who lack legitimacy, and are ineligible for assistance from the United States and many others."

Echoing her thoughts, Rubin's warning ended immediate hopes for Pakistan for getting significant American aid and access to funds from World Bank.

The warning followed a denunciation by Washington of General Pervez Musharraf's recent requirement for top judges to swear an oath of allegiance to the army.

If Pakistan is indeed branded a terrorism sponsor it would join seven countries on Washington's terrorism list: Syria, Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Sudan, Libya and North Korea.

But several Washington insiders said it was unlikely that Washington would go to the extreme extent of branding Pakistan. The pundits said that, on the other hand, Washington was trying to scare Pakistan into making solid concessions to America, thus helping Clinton go to Pakistan with a straight face.

This is the first presidential trip to the Indian subcontinent in two decades -- and even if the President happens to be in the last year of office, the trip carries weight.

Washington does not expect Pakistan to persuade the Taleban in neighboring Afghanistan hand over the Arabia-born millionaire Osama bin Laden to American officials, one Washington insider said.

"But if Pakistan could ban the Harkat ul-Mujahideen, and isolate anti-American groups, a new relationship could start building between America and Pakistan," a Washington insider said.

The state department's blunt warning on Thursday to Pakistan was partly fuelled by Musharraf's refusal to ban the organization. America had made an urgent request for the ban when a delegation of American officials met with Musharraf a week ago.

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