ANALYSIS-US wants Pakistan pledges turned to deeds
By Andrew Hill
ISLAMABAD, March 26 (Reuters) - Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, faces the most testing period of his six-month rule after President Clinton told him to make good on
pledges to curb terrorism and defuse tension with rival India.
``The challenge is there. Clinton has told him that the U.S. is not locking Pakistan out, it is not making it a pariah, but it has to deliver, and terrorism holds the key,'' writer and political analyst Ahmed Rashid said.
The fact Clinton paid Pakistan a 390-minute visit at the end of a landmark South Asia tour showed Washington has not given up on a troublesome Cold War ally with nuclear capability in what Clinton called one of the most dangerous places in the world.
Many of Clinton's aides were against paying an official visit to a military regime but the U.S. president went ahead in the hope that promises of U.S. engagement would be matched by Pakistani efforts to defuse tension with arch-rival India.
But Clinton made plain that the United States -- and by extension the international community -- expects Musharraf to do more than issue the soothing statements that have blunted world criticism of his October 12 takeover to date.
Clinton failed to secure a date for when Musharraf will write the military out of the script of Pakistan's turbulent politics but got a commitment to seek dialogue with India and a hint that armed militancy in Kashmir could be reined in.
Action on this alone could prolong Western engagement with Pakistan and temper its distaste for military rule and what Clinton called the ``tragic squandering'' of money on a nuclear weapons programme aimed solely at arch-rival India.
Musharraf hinted he could moderate the activities of Moslem militants battling Indian rule of Kashmir and said he would go to Afghanistan to discuss the sanctuary the Taleban have given Saudi-born terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden.
But Musharraf must deliver progress towards getting bin Laden expelled to stand trial on charges of masterminding the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa to persuade Pakistan's Western backers that he is serious in battling terrorism, analysts said.
No date has been set for Musharraf's visit to Afghanistan but he promised to address the ``complex issue'' of reported training camps for Arabs, Chechen and other Islamic militants and will be judged by what steps ensue, not on his good intentions.
``The point is that the relationship between Pakistan and the United States was so awful in the recent past. I think it may have been saved from a crash for now. There has been an engagement,'' said Rashid.
Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew, made similar pledges to curb extremism but these fell by the wayside in a chaotic descent that brought Pakistan close to a fourth war with India and default on its debts of $32 billion.
RETURN OF DEMOCRACY
In a 14-minute address to Pakistan's 135 million people, Clinton listed the return of democracy, the restoration of a dialogue with India, nuclear restraint and action to curb terrorism as areas on which Musharraf has to act, not just talk.
``I hope that you will be able to meet the difficult challenges we have discussed today. If you do not, there is a danger that Pakistan may grow even more isolated, draining even more resources away from the need of the people. Moving even closer to a conflict no one can win,'' Clinton said.
Musharraf told a news conference there was no deadlock in his talks with Clinton despite clear differences over the 52-year Kashmir dispute with India, which Musharraf says holds the key to blunting regional tension and spurring economic growth.
Musharraf had hoped for U.S. intervention to get India to resume talks on Kashmir, cause of two of the three Indo-Pakistani wars, but got only a vague pledge of U.S. ``facilitation.''
This was linked to an easing of tension with India, which says it is under attack from Moslem ``terrorists'' armed and trained by Pakistan -- a charge Musharraf again denied -- masquerading as ``freedom fighters'' in the restive region.
Clinton bluntly told Musharraf to stop ``squandering'' resources on the Kashmir conflict and concentrate instead on raising living standards in a country with an average income of just over $1 a day.
To downgrade the Kashmir dispute would be political suicide for any Pakistani leader and would enrage both Islamic and conventional political parties, analysts said.
``It sounded like an agenda made in Delhi,'' said political commentator Naseem Zehra, who complained that Washington was ``as usual lecturing us about internal policy.''
But Musharraf hinted that the activities of the ``jehadis,'' or holy warriors, responsible for violent attacks against Indian targets in Kashmir could be ``moderated'' if India eased its military grip on the people of its only Moslem-majority state.
``Reciprocal action means that they (Indians) need to stop human rights violations there (in Kashmir), they need to stop atrocities across the Line of Control and we could also...use our influence to moderate the activities of the freedom fighters,'' Musharraf said.
It was the first public hint that Pakistan might rein in the militants, but was firmly linked to action by India to curb what Pakistan says is the armed repression of Kashmiris there.
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