Albright Trip Seeks Warmer U.S.-India Relations: 3-Nation Tour Seen Tied to U.S. Policy on China

Article excerpt

Fourteen years ago on a July night in New Delhi, Secretary of State George Shultz toasted Indian officials over dinner for charting a course "which will draw our two countries even closer together in the future."

It was a course both countries began plotting the year before, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Reagan met in Washington and agreed to strengthen ties between them.

A Soviet presence in Afghanistan had complicated relations before the two leaders met. The United States funneled arms to Muslim rebels in Pakistan - India's longtime adversary and neighbor - who were trying to oust Soviet troops from Afghanistan. India, meanwhile, was showing signs of growing threateningly close to the Soviet Union.

But the strong ties touted by Mr. Reagan and Mrs. Gandhi evaporated in 1991 when the Soviet Union disintegrated and the communist threat in Asia receded.

When Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright becomes the first of her rank in 14 years to visit India, Pakistan and Bangladesh tomorrow, she will try to rekindle the relationship Mr. Shultz toasted at that New Delhi dinner.

But South Asia watchers say that this is more than just a "feel-good trip," that it's just part of an expanded U.S. China policy, a push for improved human rights, and an effort to boost trade with a region that has been an unused "treasure trove of research."

And this week's ambush killings of four American businessmen in Pakistan have put a whole new twist on the visit: Mrs. Albright will stress the need for U.S.-Pakistan anti-terrorism cooperation.

THE AGENDA

Mrs. Albright's trip begins in Karachi, Pakistan, where she will push the government to commit to democratic development, human rights and religious tolerance. She and Pakistani officials plan to discuss how to end the conflict in Afghanistan, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said.

He said the focus in India will be on strategic and environmental issues. The decades-long dispute between India and Pakistan, which fought three wars since 1947, will not be a central theme of the trip.

"We're seeing the trends of region," said Peter Brooks, House International Relations Committee spokesman. "We've got more trade with the region than we have before. . . . Our first step to see how they react to Secretary Albright. Congress, because of Pakistani-Americans and Indian-Americans, would like to see closer relations with the region."

But to get those closer relations, Mrs. Albright will try to get the Pakistani goverment to commit to a joint anti-terrorism campaign. The State Department this week issued a travel warning for Pakistan after Wednesday's ambush killing of four American businessmen and their Pakistani driver.

Those killings - and the unsolved murders of U.S. consulate workers in 1995 - "underscores the political and criminal violence in which Americans in Pakistan are vulnerable," the warning said.

Groups such as Amnesty International will be closely watching the emphasis Mrs. Albright places on human rights on the visit.

"Our concern is how much a role human rights will play during the visit. . . . It's not being mentioned so far. . . . We urge the secretary to make a statement about treatment of women in Afghanistan while she's in Pakistan. It's the best chance the secretary and president have to highlight this," said T. Kumar, Asia advocacy director for Amnesty International.

Mr. Kumar acknowledged that trade will be a major focus of the trip, however. …