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March 8, 2000
Clinton's Pak visit irks Indian Americans
A P Kamath
The news was a bitter blow to many but particularly to community leader Sunil Aghi, who had met Bill Clinton last week at a fund-raiser in Los Angeles and had pleaded -- as had many other fellow Indians and pro-India Congressmen -- that Clinton should not visit Pakistan, at least during this trip.
"Dictatorships should not be rewarded," Aghi has been saying for a long time, joining those who have been demanding that Pakistan should be declared a terrorist nation.
And yet Aghi said he hoped Clinton's visit to India would be so fruitful that the Pakistan sojourn will not have any meaning.
Several other Indian community leaders felt the Pakistan lobby had won, and they wondered what lobbyists for India, like the former Congressman Stephen Solarz, have been doing.
"This is a reward to a dictatorship," said one community leader. "Clinton has fallen to the argument that if he did not go to Pakistan, the fundamentalists there will gain."
"Well, Jimmy Carter went to Tehran about 25 years ago and embraced the Shah. But what happened? The Shah was out within a few weeks."
Washington insiders say Clinton made the decision for a stopover in Pakistan despite demands from friendly Congressmen such as Gary L Ackerman (New York Democrat) that he should not visit the country. If at all he would visit it, he should ensure that the military rulers give a firm date to hold elections supervised by foreign observers.
"The return of democracy should be the main item on the agenda when President Clinton meets General Pervez Musharaff during the stopover in Pakistan," said Ackerman, a leading member of the House International Relations Committee.
Ackerman, co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said he would press the issue of the return of democracy in Pakistan with the president. The New York lawmaker, who joined Clinton at the White House to watch election results from the 'Super Tuesday' primaries, said: "The military dictator now illegitimately ruling the people of Pakistan must give a date-certain schedule to hold democratic elections...
"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," he said.
Ackerman also demanded "the junta in Islamabad 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-Mujaheddin and Lashkar e-Toiba must be outlawed by Pakistan.
"This means that the regime in Islamabad must shut down all the training camps that produce these terror outfits," he said. "This means that Pakistan cannot be fully recognized among the world's decent nations until it takes real and serious steps to halt its role in supporting the jihad (holy war) against India over Kashmir."
Many power observers in Washington thought that it would not happen -- or at best there would be some gestures from Islamabad solely to impress America.
"Do not expect a request from Islamabad to send a special plane to ferry bin Laden," said an observer. Pakistan would never put pressure on Afghanistan to give up bin Laden.
The fact that Clinton will visit Islamabad on his way back to Washington after a five-day trip to India was no consolation to Indian Americans, said Deepan Singh, a New York student.
"China must have insisted on that but why did India lose out?" he wondered. "Perhaps if we have had half the American investment in China, New Delhi's demands would have been taken seriously."
"We thought after America blamed Pakistan for the Kargil war, Clinton will boycott Pakistan, particularly since Musharraf was the architect of the invasion," said businessman Rajiv Sharma. "But how wrong we were."
The administration said Clinton would use the visit to defuse the nuclear tension in the region.
"We cannot predict when the next flare-up might occur in this region," said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the decision.
"The tensions are higher there now than at any time since the last Indian-Pakistani war in 1971. We are concerned that through misunderstandings or gradual escalation, the two countries could once again find themselves in conflict."
But Indian Americans and several policy analysts wondered what Clinton could achieve during a few hours' stay in Pakistan.
"The mullahs could turn the event into an anti-American pose," said a senior analyst on the Hill, who asked for anonymity. "They will say that Clinton insulted Pakistan because he spent just a night in the country."
But Pakistani lobbyists thought otherwise.
Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, told the media that Clinton will be "warmly welcomed" in Islamabad.
"His visit to our region could turn out to be truly historic," if it leads to a Kashmir settlement "based on the wishes of the Kashmiri people," she said.
"We are not satisfied with what we have got in Pakistan as a resolution of our concerns," said a senior official who briefed reporters.
But the official continued, "We have had a long-standing, friendly relationship with Pakistan, and to avoid going there on this trip could send the wrong signal to the people of Pakistan that the United States was turning its back on a friend."
Aghi laughed at the suggestion.
"Pakistan's hand is evident in major terrorist activities whether in New York (the World Trade Center bombing) or in Kargil," he said.
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