Clinton Scolds Pakistani Leader
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Amid extraordinary security of decoy limousines and a last-minute plane switch, President Clinton admonished Pakistan’s military ruler Saturday for a ``tragic squandering of effort, energy and wealth″ on nuclear weapons and confrontations with India. But Clinton’s appeal for restraint seemed to go unheeded.
``Take the right steps now to prevent escalation, avoid miscalculation and reduce the risk of war,″ the president urged. He prodded Gen. Pervez Musharraf to restore democracy, crack down on terrorism and renew talks with India to ease their angry standoff over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
Clinton was the first U.S. president to visit Pakistan since 1969 and he brought a sobering warning of diplomatic isolation and worsening problems unless Islamabad changes course. It was a hard message for a nation that stood loyally with the United States through a half century of Cold War crises.
The president spelled out his concerns in a meeting at the presidential palace with Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup last October. Then, Clinton made an address on state-run television, asking citizens to consider whether a nuclear rivalry and border tensions with India will make Pakistan safer or improve living conditions.
``The answer to all these questions is no,″ he declared.
Clinton’s visit concluded a six-day trip to South Asia, a region he has called perhaps the most dangerous in the world. Beginning his journey home, Clinton stopped in Oman for refueling and then headed for Geneva, Switzerland, to meet Syrian President Hafez Assad in hopes of renewing peace talks with Israel.
He met for a little over hour at the airport in Oman with Foreign Minister Youssef bin Alawi, who told reporters later that Clinton told him he was ``optimistic″ that Assad ``shares his feelings in finding solutions to resuming the Syrian-Israeli negotiations.″ bin Alawi told reporters.
At his own news conference, Musharraf said he told Clinton he would meet ``anywhere, at anytime and at any level″ with India to begin resolving their disputes. He said ``there was no deadlock at all″ between him and Clinton _ they even discussed golf.
``I think we got on pretty well together. I was also pretty diplomatic for a change,″ Musharraf said.
Security around Clinton was the tightest of any presidential trip in memory.
Streets were eerily empty except for thousands of rifle-toting soldiers and police. The president flew to Pakistan in an unmarked white Gulfstream jet after a carefully staged ruse at his departure from Bombay, India.
It had appeared Clinton was going to board an Air Force C-17 cargo jet but at the last second, he detoured around the plane and got on the Gulfstream, which was hidden behind the huge C-17.
Three hours later, a USA-marked decoy Gulfstream landed at Chaklala Airfield in Islamabad and pulled up at the arrival stand. But Clinton was not on board. About five minutes later the white plane carrying Clinton touched down. Six armored black limousines with American flags and seals and Washington license plates raced up to shield Clinton’s arrival.
With helicopters hovering at the front and rear of his motorcade, Clinton was driven to the presidential palace where he held inconclusive talks with Musharraf. Despite the apparent lack of progress, the two leaders ended up with a clearer view of each other’s positions, said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.
Lockhart said he was unaware of any specific security threat in Pakistan but said it is in a dangerous neighborhood. Neighboring Afghanistan has given refuge to Osama bin Laden, blamed by the United States for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.
Trying to prevent Musharraf from claiming a public relations triumph from the meeting, the White House refused to allow any media coverage and instead released an official photo of the two leaders seated 12 feet across from each other.
In his televised address, Clinton acknowledged that Pakistan’s democratic governments had failed to meet hopes that they would repair the economy and stem corruption.
``Successful democratic government takes time, patience and hard work,″ he said. ``The answer to flawed democracy is not to end democracy, but to improve it.″
Clinton’s tone was one of disappointment with the path Pakistan has taken and optimism that it can get back on the right track.
``If you do not,″ the president warned, ``there is a danger that Pakistan may grow even more isolated, draining even more resources away from the needs of the people, moving even closer to a conflict that no one can win.″
He presented a clear list of conditions to remedy the relationship.
He called on Musharraf to produce a plan for the return of civilian democratic rule and to intensify efforts against terrorists.
Matching a plea he made to India, Clinton urged Pakistan to sign a nuclear test ban treaty to slow the arms race they started with nuclear tests in 1998. ``The whole world will rally around you if you do,″ the president said.
Calling for a reduction in tensions with India, Clinton said Pakistan must ``create conditions that will allow dialogue to succeed″ in resolving the Kashmir dispute, which nearly sparked a third war last summer.
While acknowledging Pakistan’s concern about human rights in Kashmir, Clinton said that ``a stark truth must be faced. There is no military solution to Kashmir.″
And he dashed any hopes in Pakistan that the United States would step in to mediate a Kashmir settlement. India argues outside help would reward Pakistani violence.
During a five-day visit to India, Clinton made the same appeal for nuclear restraint and a dialogue on Kashmir. But the government in New Delhi showed little interest, although both sides said Clinton’s visit had been a big step toward improving relations that soured over two decades of U.S. neglect.
On the Net:
White House trip site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/New/SouthAsia
Pakistani government: http://www.pak.gov.pk
General information on Pakistan: http://www.hipakistan.com
Indian foreign ministry: http://www.meadev.gov.in
Indian government information bureau: http://pib.nic.in