US Needs Fast Policy Fix on India, Pakistan ; President Clinton Will Take Carrot, Stick to South Asia as Troubles between Two Nations Still Simmer

Article excerpt

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, analysts say.

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. …

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