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January 27, 2000
No evidence of Pak hand in hijack: Clinton
A P Kamath
The headline in the lead story of The New York Times on Monday screamed, 'US Says Pakistan Backed Hijackers of Indian Jetliner.' But the White House was clearly reluctant to blame Pakistan for the hijacking and designate it a country that sponsors terrorism.
As many Indian American groups, including led by Sunil Aghi in California, renewed their plea that Pakistan be termed a terrorist state, President Bill Clinton distanced the administration from the implications in the Times report.
"We don't have any evidence that the Pakistani government was involved in that hijacking,'' Clinton said.
Even before Clinton made the comment, Karl Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for south Asian affairs, had told the Timesthat Pakistan ought to be engaged in a dialogue, and Clinton "is our best engager." He also repudiated the notion that Washington has been "tilting" towards India in recent months.
"We are not going to choose one over the other," he said. "In our view, 'tilt' is a four-letter word that should be banned in any discussion of the subcontinent."
His remarks came as Washington was speculating whether Clinton would visit Pakistan as a part of his tour of the subcontinent in March. Pro-Indian groups and Indian American activists do not want him to go there especially because of the view that Osama bin Laden, the millionaire Saudi Arabian militant who directs fundamentalist battles from Afghanistan, is believed to be backed by Pakistan. But old hands at the Pentagon, who have been close to Pakistan for over five decades, clearly want him to visit Islamabad.
When reporters asked whether Washington was considering adding Pakistan to the list of states sponsoring terrorism, as suggested by such Congressmen as Gary Ackerman, a senior US official said on Tuesday: "We always have the list under review." He would not elaborate.
"If you are looking for bin Laden, you should look for his mentors and protectors in Pakistan,' Yossef Bodansky, the anti-terrorist expert and author of a book on bin Laden, had said in an earlier interview with rediff.com Bodansky also said that a task force on terrorism he leads has not yet concluded its study and he would not comment on the controversies mentioned in the Times article.
The Times had quoted on officials on Tuesday who said that Inderfurth had told General Pervez Musharraf that the United States was concerned about the links between the Harkat-ul Mujahideen and Musharraf's military and intelligence services.
Inderfurth and two other officials had visited Islamabad last week to persuade the general to ban the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and to put pressure on the Taliban to give up bin Laden. But Musharraf was clearly not in a mood to oblige.
Earlier, State Department spokesman James P Rubin had asserted: "We have no reason to believe that the government of Pakistan had foreknowledge, supported or helped carry out" the hijacking.
But he also said: "We have been concerned for some time about the fact that agencies of the Pakistani government have provided general support to a number of groups operating in Kashmir, including the Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen.''
"We also have reason to believe that the hijackers were affiliated with the Harkat-ul Mujahideen.
"What more evidence does Washington want to declare Pakistan a terrorist state," Aghi asked. The Cold War is long over, and yet America is not prepared to see Pakistan for what it is, he said.
Aghi, who has helped raise funds for influential Democrats, said that Pakistan would be snubbed if Clinton cancels his trip there. This is the first presidential visit to south Asia in over two decades.
But many Washington insiders said it was "romantic" to expect Washington to condemn Pakistan. The Clinton administration believes that engaging Pakistan would better serve the cause of democracy and free trade. If Musharraf is pushed to the wall, he might actually align himself further with fundamentalists, some Washington pundits believe.
To back their view that Washington won't name Pakistan a country sponsoring terrorism, they pointed out to several statements made by Inderfurth to the Times.
"We have said we cannot do business as usual with a military government in Pakistan," he said.
"Yet, to influence Pakistan on democracy, terrorism, and non-proliferation, we have to engage them. Our president is our best engager," he said.
If Ackerman's demand to name Pakistan as a terrorist state is accepted, it will join the likes of Iran and Iraq. Such countries are barred from assistance from the US, and the doors of World Bank and similar institutions are closed to them.
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