- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2000

The Clinton administration believes that a militant Islamic group linked to Pakistan's army seized an Indian plane in December, but that the government of Pakistan was not aware of plans for the hijacking, U.S. officials said yesterday.

Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HUM), which has been blamed for the hijacking, organizes and trains in Pakistan and it then sends fighters into Indian-held Kashmir for guerrilla the Indians call them terrorist attacks.

"The HUM is, in our view, a terrorist group and we urge the government of Pakistan to shut down its activities [and] to sever any links with that organization and to ban it," said a senior U.S. official who recently returned from Pakistan.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said yesterday, "We have no reason to believe that the government of Pakistan had foreknowledge [of], supported, or helped carry out this terrible hijacking."

But he added: "We have been concerned for some time about the fact that agencies of the Pakistani government have provided general support to a number of groups operating in Kashmir, including Harkat ul-Mujahideen. We also have reason to believe that the hijackers were affiliated with the Harkat ul-Mujahideen."

If Pakistan were conclusively linked to terrorism by supporting a terrorist group, it would then be barred from receiving aid from the United States, World Bank or International Monetary Fund.

Some fear that such a move could send the fragile economy of Pakistan into default and disaster.

With 140 million people mostly mired in poverty, feudalism and Islamic fundamentalism, Pakistan which, like India, set off nuclear blasts in 1998 is increasingly seen as a flash point for terrorism, as well as nuclear war.

The terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in New York and set off other attacks on Western targets in recent years have frequently been trained in Pakistan.

Pakistan's neighbors include Afghanistan, which is under U.N. sanctions for harboring accused terrorist Osama bin Laden, and Iran, listed as a terrorist state by the State Department.

President Clinton has decided to visit India and Bangladesh in late February or March, but will not yet say if he will also visit Pakistan, said the senior U.S. official yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"We will be looking to have an announcement of the president's trip to the region, meaning India and Bangladesh, in near future, most likely in the next 10 days, maybe sooner," said the official. "There will be no announcement on Pakistan that will remain under review."

Mr. Clinton, while unwilling to state if he will include Pakistan on his itinerary for the first U.S. presidential visit to South Asia in 21 years, rejected a published report that Pakistan had been linked to the Indian plane hijacking.

India has charged that Pakistan was behind the hijacking, but has offered no proof.

No government in Pakistan either civilian or the current military government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, which seized power in October, can muster the political support to uproot the militant Islamic groups that are also fighting against Indian domination of Kashmir an enormously potent and popular cause in Pakistan.

Pakistan thus far has been able to walk a thin line and avoid international pariah status by allowing groups such as Harkat ul-Mujahideen to train, arm and plan attacks on Indian forces, but keep its overt support for them on a political and diplomatic level.

India, however, says Pakistani covert support is far more extensive and includes helping the militants by diversionary attacks across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir into Indian and Pakistani sectors, as well as with military and logistics assistance.

The senior U.S. official said that he and two congressional delegations had recently visited Gen. Musharraf and told him of the need to address U.S. concerns about terrorism, nuclear weapons and the need to return to democracy.

While there was little indication of any positive response on the first two, the general did say that Pakistan would hold local elections in the fall, would appoint an independent electoral commission and would hold provincial and federal elections at some point in the future.

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