With President Clinton scheduled to visit South Asia in March, US
officials are scrambling to come up with a policy that would address
new attitudes in India and Pakistan.
The two powers, who analysts say are currently the most likely
sources of a nuclear face-off in the new century, have been a
diplomatic quagmire for the US since India declared itself a
republic in 1950.
Now, with India insisting it be treated as a global power and
Pakistan's actions threatening to put it in the "rogue state"
category, the region has become even more difficult to manage,
Most immediately, the two countries continue to spar over the
Himalayan region of Kashmir - a global hot spot that has already
caused two wars.
Intense fighting last summer was stopped with behind-the-scenes
help from the US, but Washington has no official role as a
peacemaker - something Pakistan wants and India refuses. More
fighting seems imminent.
The first test US officials face is deciding the nature of the
president's trip to South Asia, the first such visit by a US
president in 22 years. The White House announced last week there
will be stops in India and Bangladesh, but Pakistan is still a
source of debate within the White House and State Department.
Pakistan once a strong ally
For Mr. Clinton, it is a classic case of carrot-and-stick
diplomacy. India, despite its nuclear-weapons program and aggressive
defense purchases, is being rewarded.
"I'm going [to India] because it's the biggest democracy in the
world, and I think we haven't been working with them enough,"
Clinton said. "We have an enormous common interest in shaping the
future with them."
The opposite may be true for Pakistan - a country that was a
strong ally during the cold war, when it and the US supported Afghan
rebels fighting against the Soviet Union - if it is not included on
the president's itinerary.
Since the breakup of the Eastern bloc, Pakistan has become less
and less strategically important, and has gradually fallen out of
favor with the US. It has also maintained ties with Islamic
fundamentalist elements in Afghanistan, and has been accused of
being sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile who declared
war against the US.
"If Clinton doesn't go [to Pakistan], it will signal a major
shift in the US's South Asia policy," says Shireen Hunter of the US
Institute for Peace in Washington.
On one hand it is apparent that Clinton wants to visit and be a
peacemaker - something he has cherished throughout his presidency.
And, "seeking peace involves talking to both sides," says a State
Department official. …