Clinton Mixes Business with Tourism in India, Goodwill in Bangladesh, Realpolitik in Pakistan

By M, M. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2000 | Go to article overview
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Clinton Mixes Business with Tourism in India, Goodwill in Bangladesh, Realpolitik in Pakistan

M, M., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Clinton Mixes Business With Tourism in India, Goodwill in Bangladesh, Realpolitik in Pakistan

President Bill Clinton's long-awaited visit to the subcontinent did not produce any spectacular results. But none were expected. In India it was mostly sightseeing and ceremony.

In Bangladesh it was a goodwill visit only slightly marred by a security concern that prevented the president from helicoptering to a village where some 7,000 regional residents awaited him. So some villagers most intimately concerned with development activities were bused to the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka to meet the president there.

In Pakistan, however, the visit was marked by high-security drama and some frank talk during the presidential party's five-hour stay in Islamabad.

The trip re-emphasized for the U.S. president and his policymakers that while America may be taking a broader view of South Asia, especially in the context of the emergence of China as a superpower in that part of the world, Indians and Pakistanis are deeply engrossed in their own geopolitically driven regional perspectives. At the center of their dispute is the problem of the Kashmiris, promised self-determination by the United Nations half a century ago -- but largely occupied by India instead. Like the unsolved Palestine problem which poisons everything the U.S. does in the Middle East and parts of Africa, until the Kashmiris get the justice they seek, South Asia will remain the most dangerous region in the world.

If the trip opened the eyes of a new generation of U.S. leaders to the reality that deferring the problem that divides these two nuclear-armed countries has the potential to thwart U.S. foreign policy objectives in the whole of Asia in the coming years, then it was worthwhile.

President Clinton today is much more aware that although the physical distances between Bangladesh, India and Pakistan may not seem great, the political barriers currently separating them are insurmountable. The psychological and ethnic undercurrents that caused the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 are still in play and the distrust of yesteryear is kept alive by the Kashmir dispute and related issues.

With the Cold War over, no one had expected President Clinton to side with smaller and deeply troubled Pakistan over much larger and more heavily populated India. So the presidential performance was not totally surprising, although he slept in India, even on the day he visited Bangladesh, and on the night before he visited Pakistan. Realizing that his pre-arrival hopes of mediating between India and Pakistan on Kashmir would be rejected by New Delhi, he switched his stance and instead strongly admonished the two nuclear powers to desist from trying to find a military solution to the dispute.

Showing a clear tilt toward India, he asked Pakistan to respect the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir and stop assisting the freedom fighters. He also reminded Pakistan that in its bid to liberate Muslim-majority Kashmir, it may weaken Pakistan itself by further draining its already feeble economy. And in a televised address to the Pakistani nation, he said bluntly that "absence of democracy makes it harder, not easier, for people to move ahead."

By contrast, in India Clinton called for a closer "partnership" in the fields of cyber technology and industry. He also addressed a joint session of the Indian parliament and there he counseled legislators to seek political solutions through direct talks with Pakistan.


In an uncharacteristic Reaganesque style, Clinton asked both India and Pakistan if they felt any safer today than before they detonated their nuclear weapons in May of 1998. "The United States is dramatically cutting its nuclear arsenal; around the world, nations are renouncing these weapons," he said.

"As leaders in your own country have suggested, one way to strengthen your security would be to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)," Clinton continued.

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