ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — IN an effort to head off charges of supporting terrorism, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is sending his chief political adviser, Nisar Ali Khan, to Washington today for high-level talks with United States officials.
Last December, the Bush administration officially considered adding Pakistan to the list of countries supporting terrorism, for its alleged role in arming and training separatist Kashmiri militants, but did not follow through. The rebels have been fighting for independence in an Indian-controlled area of Kashmir, a state also claimed by Pakistan.
Now, the case is under review by the Clinton administration.
In addition, the three largest papers in India cited new evidence on Sunday implicating the Pakistani intelligence agency in a spate of bombings that rocked Bombay last month. None of the newspapers identified the source of the evidence, indicating the information may have come from an Indian government leak.
Islamabad has forcefully rejected the charges and has described the Indian allegations as part of a malicious campaign to encourage Washington to press ahead with the terrorism charge.
In response to the newspaper reports, a Foreign Office spokesman said, "It is obviously a systematic campaign to pin the [Bombay blasts] on us." He added, "Our view is very, very clear that it's a high priority for India to implicate us." He suggested that New Delhi's motive was to have Pakistan placed on Washington's terrorism list. Mutual charges
Relations between the two South Asian neighbors have been tense since the states were divided after independence from Britain in 1947.
Pakistan has accused India of supporting militant nationalists in its coastal province of Sindh to destabilize areas around Karachi, the country's commercial capital.
Likewise, India has accused Pakistan of supporting separatists in its troubled states of Punjab and Kashmir.
The two have fought three wars: two over the disputed province of Kashmir, and one over territory now in Bangladesh.
Since last month's bombings in Bombay, Pakistan has begun a search for six members of the Memon family, whom Indian officials say organized the blasts and fled to Pakistan.
The government has also recently offered international observers free access to any part of the country in an effort to present "a very clean image," in the words of one senior Western diplomat.
But last week, United States Ambassador to Pakistan John Monjo said Washington remains deeply concerned over the terrorism issue because Islamabad has still not clamped down effectively enough on material assistance to Kashmiri insurgents.
Although Washington's concerns are increasing pressure on Islamabad, it is not yet clear how Pakistan's international relations could be affected.
Many Western diplomats are convinced the US would not place Pakistan in the same category as such countries as Iran, Libya, and Cuba. "I don't think [the US] will press the terrorism charge. For Washington, Pakistan is strategically important enough that it should not be alienated," says one senior Western ambassador in Islamabad on condition of anonymity. But he added, "The psychological pressure of being considered for going on that list itself is quite enormous."
Even if Pakistan is able to convince its friends and allies that it wants to clamp down on militancy, the country faces difficult realities.
The activities of local Islamic groups, in some cases with close ties to similar groups in other countries, are a matter of growing concern.Among those are the religious Jamaat-i-Islami, which supports the introduction of Islamic law. Last month, the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan accused the Jamaat of fomenting unrest in neighboring Tajikistan, where civil unrest continues into a second year. Islamic groups
In addition, at least 6,000 Arab activists who came here during in the 1980s to participate in the Afghan war are tied to smaller Islamic organizations. The government is making an effort to close down those organizations.
Last week, Prime Minister Sharif gave "full assurances" to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that he will do everything possible to prevent those Arabs in Pakistan from receiving assistance which they could use against secular North African governments, including Egypt.
Arab governments have become increasingly worried about their activities, especially after the recent bomb blast in the New York World Trade Center, which has been blamed on Islamic activists.
But enforcement is difficult for Islamabad. Groups such as the Jamaat and Arab Islamic organizations work independently of the government and often with the support of clergy.
In addition, an influx of US arms and training during the Afghan war have left behind what one official privately describes as "well-trained men with access to arms, but nowhere to go and nothing to do."