- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2000

When President Clinton visits India and Pakistan next week, he's not in for a ticker-tape parade, and he knows it. For months, the White House stalled on whether Mr. Clinton should go to Pakistan, a decision that would put his own security at risk in the military-ruled country and incite anger in neighboring India, with whom Pakistan has been in conflict over the disputed Kashmir region.

But for all the royal treatment he may miss overseas, the five-hour Pakistan visit is already paying off on this side of the Atlantic. At a Feb. 22 fund-raiser dinner, Pakistani-Americans who wanted Mr. Clinton to visit their homeland raised $50,000 for Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate race, the New York Times reported Tuesday. While Mr. Clinton was still deciding whether he should visit Pakistan, the organizers moved the dinner to a date before Mr. Clinton's trip. The White House is saying Mrs. Clinton had nothing to do with his decision to visit the country, though Mrs. Clinton spoke about her desire for him to go at the event, the report said.

Regardless of why Mr. Clinton has decided to visit the dual nuclear powers now, a pleasure tour for the outgoing president this is not. A left wing party in India's parliament said it would boycott Mr. Clinton's speech there and rally their Marxist-Leninist supporters to stage protests during his visit, declaring the first day to be a "national day of protest against U.S. imperialism." A week before his visit, violence along the Indian-Pakistani border in the Kashmir region where Mr. Clinton had hoped to bring peace left blood on the ground as a warning. Indian shelling on Pakistani border villages left two 8-year-old girls dead and 11 others wounded.

Diplomacy with the Pakistanis will be a delicate matter as well. This is a country where the elected leader, Nawaz Sharif, his brother and aides have been imprisoned by the ruling military dictator, and the leading defense attorney of the former prime minister was murdered in his office as he sat at his desk Friday. It is a country whose Interservice Intelligence Agency is training and arming militants, and inciting violence in India's northeast region. It is the same country that registered treason cases Sunday against Mr. Sharif's wife and 16 leaders of his political party. If convicted, they could spend life in prison. Their crime? Making "provocative statements."

How much can Mr. Clinton really say in such an environment? He is prepared to talk about terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation and restoring democracy in Pakistan. But Pakistan, at least on some fronts, is not yet ready to listen: "Pakistan has its own laws," Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said about banning the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, an armed Pakistani group the United States lists as a terrorist organization.

In India, trade, nuclear nonproliferation, the environment and terrorism top the agenda for discussion. Here, too, the visit may be more about extending an initial handshake rather than forging any conclusive initiatives.

Sounds like the Clintons got started early with the handshakes with the Pakistanis at least. Five hours in a country for 50 grand isn't a bad deal, even if it will be a little dangerous. Though it is probably too much to hope for, with the shared Kashmir region experiencing ongoing conflict and terrorism in both countries a continuing threat, it is a pivotal time for the United States to encourage peace.

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