- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2000

Pakistan's military rulers sent an envoy to Washington yesterday to defuse U.S. concerns about terrorism and lack of democracy and to warn that if President Clinton skips Pakistan during a trip to India next month it will escalate tensions in nuclear-armed South Asia.
Minister Omar Asghar Khan met U.S. officials yesterday in Washington and disclosed plans to hold local elections by the end of the year as a first step toward restoring democracy in the Islamic nation of 150 million.
"We now have a free press and a lean, clean government with no scandals so far," said Mr. Asghar. "We are committed to transfer power to civilians."
Mr. Clinton, who is slated to visit India and Bangladesh next month, has not decided whether the trip will also include a stop in Pakistan, a nation ruled by a military junta that seized power from a civilian government in October.
Top U.S. officials and academic experts met Monday at the White House to debate the pros and cons of a presidential visit to Pakistan, a source who attended the meeting said.
Skipping Pakistan could push the nuclear-armed country into the arms of militant anti-Western Islamists, not unlike those who rule Afghanistan and Iran, some participants warned.
Others, however, said they fear a visit by Mr. Clinton would condone military takeovers and cross-border militancy that threatens to ignite a fourth war between Pakistan and India.
Yesterday, Indian tanks and troops held large-scale military maneuvers 60 miles from Pakistan's border in Rajasthan, where similar exercises in 1986 set off Pakistani maneuvers that nearly sparked a war.
U.S. officials are pressing Pakistan for:
* Moves to restore democratic rule.
* An end to support for terrorist groups that attack Hindus in Kashmir and are accused of hijacking an Indian plane in December.
* Efforts to reduce the conflict with India.
Pakistan's deeply rooted corruption extending throughout the police, government, courts and bureaucracy has discouraged foreign investment, driven many educated people abroad and retarded development, analysts say.
In a move that could address U.S. concerns over terrorism, Pakistan announced yesterday it will ban possession and public display of weapons by anyone other than police and the army, the official Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported.
Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider said the move was to deal with terrorism, smuggling and drug trafficking.
The Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and other groups accused by the United States of being terrorists openly brandish weapons at rallies.
The move to control weapons, which had been tried in vain by previous governments, follows a decision last week to place under house arrest the fiery HUM leader, Masood Azhar, who was released from jail by India in December to end the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane and free its passengers.
Azhar has been blocked from making public calls for his followers to prepare for war against India and America, Pakistani officials said.
The moves to control the cleric and limit weapons are meant, say Pakistani officials, to do more than prevent a Clinton boycott. They fear the United States could place the country on a list of nations sponsoring terrorism a move that would bar aid from the United States, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
"You can't put Pakistan on the terrorist list. It just puts our back up," said a Pakistani official in Washington Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Pakistan claims it only gives moral support to HUM, which trains in Afghanistan and then attacks Indian targets in Kashmir.
The Pakistani official said that if Mr. Clinton fails to visit Pakistan, it will "aggravate the situation and encourage India to be belligerent.
"Clinton will lose the chance to bring peace to a large part of the world."

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