Clinton fails to get Pakistan democracy date
By Arshad Mohammed
ISLAMABAD, March 25 (Reuters) - U.S. President Bill Clinton vainly pressed Pakistan's military ruler on Saturday to say when democracy would be restored and termed Pakistan's nuclear weapons a waste of the nation's wealth.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Clinton made the blunt points in more than one hour and 40 minutes of talks with General Pervez Musharraf, who overthrew the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on October 12.
U.S. officials described the talks, held during a five-hour visit in the tightest of security at the end of a six-day South Asian tour, as constructive, serious and direct.
But the talks underlined the gulf between Washington and the military administration over the suspension of democratic rule in Pakistan, which has had military rulers for half its 52-year life.
"He (Musharraf) did not offer a time line or an extended road map to the return of democracy," said the official.
The official said Clinton told Musharraf that Pakistan's nuclear weapons "did not make Pakistan a safer place, had not enhanced its deterrence capability and did not make the Pakistani people safer."
"In fact, embarking on a nuclear arms race (with arch-rival India) was an expensive way to squander the nation's wealth," the official quoted Clinton as telling Musharraf.
The view was at complete odds with Musharraf's that Pakistan had to carry out nuclear tests in May 1998 in response to similar trials by arch-rival India, with which it is in a tense dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Clinton's worries about another bout of the military rule Pakistan has experienced for half its 52-year existence were expected to figure in live television and radio broadcasts to Pakistan's 135 million people.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Clinton told Musharraf to wind down tension with India over the disputed Kashmir region by respecting the Line of Control (LOC) dividing Indian and Pakistan-ruled Kashmir and upholding the primacy of dialogue.
He spoke a few hours after the Pakistani military accused Indian forces of shelling a village in Pakistani Kashmir across the LOC, the latest in a series of violent incidents which take place weekly in the region.
Clinton has called Kashmir one of the most dangerous places in the world because of simmering tension between the two nuclear-capable rivals and the absence of any dialogue since a near-war over Kashmir last year.
The U.S. president also stressed Washington's abhorrence of terrorism, of which Pakistan is accused by India because of its support for Kashmir militants battling Indian rule of Kashmir, and for ties with the Taleban administration in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials said Clinton pressed Pakistan to use its influence with the Taleban to secure the expulsion of Saudi-born terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden, who is accused with masterminding 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.
The official said that Musharraf promised to use his influence with the Taleban to solve the problem of bin Laden, one of America's 10 most wanted men.
Pakistan is one of only three countries which recognise the self-styled Islamic emirate of Afghanistan which the Taleban declared after seizing power in 1996.
U.S. officials said that Clinton pressed Musharraf to ensure a fair trial for deposed prime minister Sharif, who faces a possible death sentence on charges of attempted murder and hijacking on the day that Musharraf seized power.
Clinton also asked Musharraf to ensure that Sharif was not executed if found guilty. Musharraf has said he is not vindictive and cannot prejudge the verdict.
The official spoke on the second day of Sharif's defence plea in the port city of Karachi, where two policemen and two civilians were killed on Saturday in unexplained acts of violence.
The White House took no chances on flying into a country branded by rival India as a terrorist state. A Gulfstream jet with presidential markings arrived first as a decoy and was followed by an identical unmarked plane carrying Clinton.
Black limousines ringed Clinton as he and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stepped onto the tarmac, and Pakistani anti-terrorist police, backed by helicopters, shadowed his motorcade through deserted streets.
Clinton first held talks with figurehead President Rafiq Tarar, who was handpicked by the ousted government of prime minister Nawaz Sharif, which Musharraf ousted.
Musharraf says Tarar's continuing presence demonstrates that the coup does not mean complete martial law has been imposed, but Washington has called on the chief executive, as Musharraf billed himself, to unveil a precise plan for democracy's return.
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