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February 25, 2000

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Pakistan doesn't warrant Clinton's visit: Ackerman

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A P Kamath

To the apologists and lobbyists for Pakistan, who have been saying with increasing urgency that if President Bill Clinton does not go for at least a symbolic visit to Pakistan, the mullahs and fundamentalists there will make further gains, Congressman Gary L Ackerman offers few thoughts.

Unless Islamabad removes the doormat that says "Terrorists Welcome" and takes concrete steps to end its proxy war with India, and gives ironclad guarantees of free and open elections held under international supervision, no visit should be ever contemplated, Ackerman believes.

"To date, Pakistan has done nothing to warrant a visit from President Clinton," Ackerman, the Democrat from New York, asserted.

"I am fully supportive of continued engagement with Pakistan on the restoration of democracy, anti-terrorism, non-proliferation and counter-narcotics issues, but that engagement does not have to take place at the Presidential level," he said.

"At least not yet."

In a speech that called for "strategic partnership" between India and America, which also stressed that Clinton's visit can acknowledge "India as a superpower in knowledge based industries," Ackerman urged Clinton to lift the remaining sanctions against India which were imposed following India's last nuclear tests.

He lost no time in detailing how the tension between Islamabad and New Delhi could be reduced.

The proxy war especially in Jammu and Kashmir should be ended, he urged. "This means, in effect, that terrorist organizations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahadeen and Lashkar-e-Toiba must be banished from Pakistani soil," he added.

Assertions by officials from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency that "they have less knowledge or control over these groups that they would like, is neither sufficient nor acceptable, nor plausible," he continued.

Ackerman was speaking at a seminar on Indo-US Relations at a Crossroads organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.

A leading member of the House International Relations Committee, Ackerman is the co-Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Indian and Indian American Affairs.

The elections in Pakistan "must allow genuine democracy to flourish," he added.

"Controlled or managed elections will not be acceptable to the international community and should not be acceptable to us."

He applauded the increasing co-operation between India and America to combat terrorism.

"The establishment of the US-India Joint Working Group on Terrorism is one of the symbols of a new maturity between India and US," he continued . "Acts of terror have no place in a civilized world. The US and India as beacons of democratic values have a moral duty to forcefully combat cross-border aggression and acts of religious bigotry and hate."

"Both the US and India must evolve a common strategy to roll back and stop this global problem. The President should highlight the establishment of this group in order to send a message to the international community that all democracies, not just those in the West, are opposed to terrorism."

Ackerman urged more joint ventures with India.

"Information technology, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural research and development are all areas where India and the US are competitors, but they need not be adversaries," he said.

"In fact, in the business world, joint ventures between competitors with complementary technologies often yield profitable results for both partners."

"So it can be for the United States and India. In this vein, the President should take the opportunity to announce that he is lifting the remaining sanctions on India. In that way, the United States can have a full and unfettered economic relationship with India."

The new relationship between India and America "should discard the old Cold War mistrust, the mutual suspicions, the unnecessary recriminations," he said.

"Instead (it should) build on the hopes and aspirations of our two peoples; Not on the fears and stereotypes of the past. A relationship constructed in this way will go a long way to promote global harmony, international peace and good will."

He said that the Kargil war between Pakistan and India had brought the latter closer to Washington, and America should capitalize on the goodwill.

He credited the growing relationship between India and America to several Kargil-related factors.

First, the restraint in reaction shown by India during the Kargil crisis and the clear recognition by the United States that Pakistan was the aggressor in that incident.

"This was a turning point," he explained.

"In the past, most Americans and many members of Congress viewed India and Pakistan as a unit. It was 'India-Pakistan': one word. When they thought about the region, they viewed the two countries as one unit. Both nations were the same and no distinctions were made."

"After Kargil and Kandahar (when the hijacked Indian Airline plane was forced to land in Afghanistan), however, the American people understood that there was a vast difference, that there was an aggressor and a victim, that there was a perpetrator and a victim," he continued.

"The perpetrator was violent and the victim was very restrained and responsible. The hyphen in the 'India-Pakistan' disappeared. Kandahar further delineated the two even further and India was seen the nation that cared for its civilian lives and Pakistan as protecting the hijackers."

Clinton's trip next month "presents us with an enormous opportunity to build on these steps and to redefine the US-India relationship," Ackerman continued.

The President should be "recognizing that India is a responsible democratic nation in the region, and one with which we can deal."

"Such recognition provides the United States with the opportunity to establish a new paradigm in South Asia"

"Similarly we should have a separate policy for Pakistan, one that recognizes and supports our common interests with Pakistan. But we should abandon a policy where either India or Pakistan serves as a reference point for our policy toward the other. Clearly, there will be regional issues where we will have to work with both countries to pursue our interests, but in pursuit of those regional issues we should recognize the distinctions between countries and pursue our interests accordingly."

"I believe that there is a natural symmetry between the United States and India. We are both countries where the world's great religions are freely practiced," said Ackerman, who has visited India several times.

"We are countries where multiple languages are spoken, and we are countries made up of myriad ethnic groups. We are mirror images in a way. But the underlying values, the true strengths of both societies, and the real foundation of our relationship, is that both societies are built on tolerance and respect for dissent. "

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