Drawing the line at the border

Clinton ends S. Asia trip Saturday telling Pakistan that peace and prosperity go hand in hand.

A day after President Clinton's controversial trip to Pakistan, here on the border of Kashmir that Mr. Clinton called "the most dangerous place in the world," Brig. Gen. Khalid Nawaz is keenly disappointed. He had hoped the US commander-in-chief would send clear signals of US sympathy for Pakistan's claim on the Kashmir valley - located just over a line of rugged mountains where on this sunny day Pakistani and Indian observation posts can be seen a mile apart, at heights of 32,000 feet.

"We feel a little let down," says General Nawaz, a graduate of officer's school at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and now in charge of Pakistani troops at the de facto border where shelling has grown heavier in recent weeks. "[Clinton] talked about geoeconomics and markets. But he did not talk about the suffering of Kashmiris who have been under a siege."

Indeed, when the first White House trip to South Asia in 22 years ended in Islamabad on Saturday night after six days in India and Bangladesh, Pakistanis felt a gloom-inducing chill from their old cold war allies.

Despite official statements of cheer and support, Clinton delivered a "wake up call" to Pakistan, according to high-level officials travelling with the presidential entourage. An 80-minute meeting between Clinton and Pakistan's Chief Executive Officer Gen. Pervez Musharraf did not yield what the general hoped - US mediation in the 53-year Kashmir dispute.

Instead, the US president sent a clear message: Kashmir violence or peace. The president, sources say, told General Musharraf that unless Pakistan conducts its policies in accord with a mainstream set of international norms, and stops supporting mujahideen fighters crossing the border to Kashmir, Pakistan will continue to break apart economically and politically and will become increasingly isolated in the community of nations.

Further, the president stated that only a resumption of the "Lahore dialogue" with India could solve the dispute between the two archrivals - which has grown more troublesome since both sides tested nuclear weapons in 1998.

In a somewhat extraordinary address broadcast on Pakistani national TV, Clinton, after tripping slightly on the traditional Muslim "As-salaam aleikum" greeting, told Pakistanis they are in "a new and changing world ... [an] era that does not reward people who struggle in vain to redraw the borders with blood."

Indeed, if the Clinton tour to India was marked by relative comfort, swooning members of India's Parliament, trips to tiger reservations, cheering school children, and announcements of aid - the roughly 7 hours in Islamabad was sober and serious. Security was high, streets in the spacious capital were deserted, and the president arrived in a decoy plane, a white Gulfstream C-20.

Unlike India, where gaudy 20-foot-high placards of Clinton's face were painted next to those of local politicians, the drive from the Pakistani airfield was sign-free with the exception of a series of banners that made the central Pakistani point: "Freedom for Kashmir."

Officially the White House trip was designed to "keep the lines of communication open" to Pakistan, stated Joe Lockhart, the president's spokesman. This was in contrast to the warm embrace Clinton gave to India, which he praised for its democracy.

Reportedly, the meeting was a great disappointment to Musharraf. Since last October's coup, the general has placed enormous time and energy on the Kashmir dispute. He has sought world attention on the Kashmir valley where nearly 700,000 Indian troops guard an overwhelmingly Muslim population - an issue that has become a central rallying point in a country that has long tied its identity to that of Kashmir.

"We tried to draw their horizons higher," a senior White House adviser present in the high-level meeting says. "We tried to get them to look beyond Kashmir to where we want to be 20 years or so."

"The Americans stuck to their position," says retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood. "They told [Musharraf] that he can't continue to support this mujahideen policy in Kashmir, that the US does not want more blood on the [Line of Control], and that the economy can only improve when these policies stop."

The refugee camps around Chakoti village are in what is known as Azad or "free" Kashmir. Azad Kashmir begins at the winding Jhelum River - a region that was a constant low-level fight between 1948 and 1972, when the current "line of control" was agreed to after Pakistan lost Bangladesh in a war.

Some 200,000 Pakistani Kashmiris live on the border in the line of fire of Indian guns. The Indian government long ago moved Kashmiri villagers away from their side of the border; but the Paksitanis allow the villagers to remain on the border - partly to draw attention to their plight, sources say, but also partly because the villagers are reluctant to leave.

Answer Bibi, a mother of three and teacher in a camp of tents, had stayed in her village until the Indian shelling got too intense in 1998, she says. Ms. Bibi's tent is divided into two rooms with a mud floor. "It is no way to live," she says, but does not want to move too far from her village home, which had an apple orchard and vegetable fields. Like many refugees, Bibi feels the people of Kashmir should be allowed to hold the plebiscite on whether to join with Pakistan or India - promised by Indian leaders in 1949.

Nawaz, for his part, feels that a plebiscite is further away. Despite Musharraf's offer to meet with Indian leaders "anytime, anywhere," he does not feel that India will put the issue of Kashmir on the table. Expressing great emotion and frustration, Nawaz says that Americans have blurred the lines between what he calls "terrorism and freedom fighters" - and that US policymakers view Pakistani, Afghani, and Kashmiri issues all through the same lens of "terrorism."

Nawaz also expressed dismay over the US policy on Osama bin Laden, who's accused of bombing US Embassies in Africa in 1998. "The Kashmiris in this village did not bring Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan," he says. "The Pakistanis didn't put him there ... If Osama is a terrorist - is Pakistan to blame? Why do we pay the price?"

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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