MARGARET WARNER: President Clinton has spent the last five days touring India. Tomorrow he'll visit India's neighbor and rival, Pakistan, for only five hours. Whether to make even this brief visit was fiercely debated within the White House. The Secret Service was reported to have concerns for the President's safety in Pakistan, a country that harbors more than its share of Islamic terrorists. Today Shiite Muslim students in Karachi staged anti-American demonstrations, shouting, "death to America," and holding up signs that called Mr. Clinton the killer of the Muslim world. The administration also didn't want to appear to legitimize the new military government of General Pervez Musharaf. Five months ago, Musharaf ousted elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's civilian government in a bloodless coup and put Sharif on trial. Yet President Clinton is also troubled by rising tensions in the region over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, especially now that India and Pakistan have tested nuclear devices.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: The most dangerous place in the world today, I think you could argue, is the Indian subcontinent and the line of control in Kashmir.
MARGARET WARNER: Before leaving Washington, the President said he saw this trip as an opportunity to ease those dangers by speaking directly to General Musharaf.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I want to do what I can to reduce tensions on the Indian subcontinent, to reduce the likelihood of weapons proliferation. I want to do what I can to support the restoration of Democratic rule in Pakistan, and to continue our cooperation with them, against terrorism and in many other ways, that we both profited from over many decades.
MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday Musharaf announced local elections for next year, but a White House spokesman said that wasn't nearly enough. The two countries had a much warmer relationship during the cold war from the time primarily Muslim Pakistan was carved out of predominantly Hindu India in 1947. While non-aligned India kept its distance, the U.S. And Pakistan forged a strategic partnership that brought U.S. Military aid to Pakistan, and Pakistani support to the U.S.-Backed guerrillas resisting Soviet occupation of neighboring Afghanistan. But in the last decade, while Democratic India has liberalized its economy and developed a high-tech sector, Pakistan has slid into greater poverty, debt, and political instability. It has also stepped up support for the Muslim guerrillas fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, a region that's already triggered two wars between India and Pakistan. The Pakistani-backed insurgents are increasingly breaching the so-called line of control separating the Indian and Pakistani sections of the territory, and last spring they launched a fierce attack on Indian-held positions in Kashmir's Kargil region. While in India, the President called for restraint and dialogue over Kashmir. After meeting with Musharaf tomorrow, Mr. Clinton will address the Pakistani people on television. For more on President Clinton's trip and the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, we get three perspectives. Stephen Cohen served on the State Department's policy planning staff during the Reagan administration, and is the author of the book "The Pakistani Army." He is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Selig Harrison was the Washington Post's bureau chief in south Asia during the 1960's, and is the author of five books on the region. He is now a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. And Samina Ahmed is a political scientist specializing in south Asia. She's a Pakistani citizen, and is currently a fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Welcome all.
MARGARET WARNER: Sig Harrison, what can the President accomplish with this trip tomorrow?
SELIG HARRISON, The Century Foundation: Not very much. I think it is a mistake for him to go. Whatever he says, this trip will strengthen a military regime controlled by Islamic fundamental elements who are committed to stirring up trouble with India. He's going to meet General Musharraf, who is a front man for a regime that is really controlled by Islamic fundamental generals who are powerful behind the scenes. He can, of course,... he can do things in a private meeting that you can't do in public. And if he does them, it could be some value to this. What he should do is say to General Musharraf that the United States will not support further multilateral aid to Pakistan, economic aid, unless Pakistan cools it in Kashmir and sets a definite timetable for national elections. I don't think he is going to say that. The United States, in fact has been coddling Pakistan ever since this military regime came to power. In December we rescheduled a billion dollars of debt. Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, specifically said in a speech December 6 to the generals, don't worry, we're not going to use our economic aid leverage against you. So I think that if he were to make clear that when Pakistan's $37.5 billion in further U.S. debt comes due in December, we're going to expect it to be paid unless they shape up. If he does that, I think this visit could have some good.
MARGARET WARNER: Steve Cohen, do you agree with Selig Harrison's bleak assessment and with his prescription for the President talking tough?
STEPHEN COHEN, Brookings Institution: I don't think the President could make the points that Mr. Harrison wants him to make had he not gone to Pakistan. The virtue of the trip is that he can address Musharraf and the other generals, but also the Pakistani people and also address the wider Islamic world. The President should point out to Musharraf and the others our concerns about proliferation, Islamic extremism and so forth. The only way to make the case is to go to Pakistan and have a dialogue with the generals. I don't think that amounts to an endorsement of military takeover. Certainly the generals are more popular than his so-called Democratic predecessor was.
MARGARET WARNER: Samina Ahmed, do you think this regime is open to tough talk from the President?
SAMINA AHMED, Harvard University: Well, I'd like to actually first of all talk about Islamic fundamental generals. I don't think that these Islamic fundamentalists general and I don't think it is a very good idea to depict Pakistan necessarily in that particular dimension, a country that is specifically devoted to one cause, which is to promote the Jihad. But that aside, I think it is really important to remember the visit in the context it is being made. And there I would agree with Selig Harrison. I think here we do have a problem but for another reason. Five days there and five hours in Pakistan and weeks of debate on whether Clinton would visit Pakistan at all, in a way, has spoiled the environment even before the President has arrived in Pakistan. For Pakistanis looking at Clinton statements in India which were very cordial, and then looking at the kinds of statements that were coming from Clinton's team, there's already a mood that, well, since we're just going to be talked at and not talked to, why should we make any concessions. That doesn't help. But that aside, I think there is again a problem the very fact that he is visiting a state that has a military dictatorship, a military regime. What kind of a signal does that give to the regime and people of Pakistan is problematic. We have to remember that yes, we've had a long and friendly relationship with the United States. Pakistan and the United States were allies in the Cold War, but the U.S. supported three of Pakistan's four military dictatorships. So how much credibility will these claims that the U.S. now is such a great advocate of democracy in Pakistan?
MARGARET WARNER: Selig Harrison, Miss Ahmed raises an interesting point which is that we've read a lot about briefings by White House officials on the strip cluing the national security advisor Sandy Berger warning that Pakistan is in terrible trouble, a great danger of becoming a failed state. One, what do you make of the fact that the administration is saying this kind of thing -- and secondly, do you think the administration is right? That Pakistan is really in trouble here unless... If it stays on its present course?
SELIG HARRISON: It certainly is in trouble if a military regime stays in power indefinitely. I agree with Samina that most Pakistanis are not Islamic fundamentalists. What's tragic about the situation is that the fundamentalists elements have used the military, infiltration of the high levels of the military, to get power that they really don't enjoy among the people and that they wouldn't have if you could return to elections properly prepared for with redistricting and other reforms that would make them really representative. I don't think it's a failed state. I think Pakistan has a sophisticated urban middle class. Samina is a very good representative of that group. They haven't had a chance to really influence, to control the situation because Pakistan inherited... started out in its so-called Democratic governments of the past, with a gerrymandered legislature in which the rural landed gentry, the big landlords, created a national assembly dominated by the rural areas. Every government in Pakistan has been dominated by the very conservative elements in the rural areas and big industry and there hasn't been a chance for democracy to really work. We have to push for a... for giving democracy in Pakistan a chance and giving people the people in Pakistan a chance.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, but Stephen Cohen, given the history that Selig Harrison outlined, even the civilian governments in Pakistan what prospect, one do you think he can persuade the general to really establish a timetable for national elections but two, would that make a difference?
SELIG HARRISON: I was in Pakistan two and a half weeks ago and would I strongly disagree with the characterization that the senior ranks of the Pakistani army are Islamic fundamentalists. In some cases they are but in other cases they are using Islamic fundamentalists or extremists for their own purposes as instruments of state -- we've got to get them to stop doing that. That's quite clear. I think most of them would prefer a return to civilian government. They know they cannot govern Pakistan themselves. They're groping around for politicians who are able to govern Pakistan up to their standards. That's part of the problem. They hold these politicians to a very high standard, perhaps too high a standard. But for the past years we've seen Pakistani politicians - Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif -- not doing a good job. The U.S. government backed those regimes - they also backed all these regimes -- so I don't think it's a question of the U.S. supporting Pakistani generals as opposed to civilians. We have supported whatever government that has been in power - at least we tried to deal with whatever government has been in power. If anything, the Pakistan army is less Islamic in terms of its officer rank than seven or eight years ago where there was a tendency in that direction. But we really don't know what is going on in the lower ranks of the officer corps. Nobody does.
MARGARET WARNER: Let's turn to another issue which seems to be the number one issue on the administration's laundry list, Kashmir. What are the prospects of persuading the general and his regime to deescalate its support for the rebels, the guerrillas, fighting the Indian government in Kashmir?
SAMINA AHMED: After this trip I suspect the chances will be even fewer than they were before the President visited south Asia. The statements have been made on the Kashmir issue and some ways have put the generals in a bind that even if they were willing at this point in time to change course on Kashmir, it's going to be a very difficult task to try and convince their own colleagues to begin with, and then to try and put that message across to the public at large, that, well, we've decided that Kashmir takes a back stage. Musharraf made a statement yesterday saying that well, we will continue to support Kashmiri freedom fighters. We have a right to do so.
MARGARET WARNER: The point the President is trying to make and his aides have been making is the argument it's not in Pakistan's self-interest. They have too many other problems to worry about and they're obsessed with Kashmir. He is trying to make a self-interest argument. You don't think that has any...
SAMINA AHMED: I think the it is a very valid argument and an argument a large number of Pakistanis support. If you follow the Pakistan print media, you'll see op-ed pieces saying why are we focusing on Kashmir. Seven million people there, 140 million here. That's not the point. The point is when you set the stage in which you set India against Pakistan and this is always a problem the United States has faced in South Asia. Whenever the U.S. seems slightly more inclined to listen to India the Pakistanis take affront and vice versa.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me go back to Stephen Cohen on the Kashmir issue. Do you share Miss Ahmed's view that... The President is not going to make head way on that?
STEPHEN COHEN: I agree with her argument that it's in Pakistan's self interest in go ease on Kashmir. The generals I spoke to said they would go easy on Kashmir if the Indians would ease up on the Kashmiris. So in a sense the President is interposing himself between these two sides. The success of this mission... this visit will be whether in fact he can get both sides to cool it in Kashmir. Y-the-. I'm not sure whether he'll be able to or not, but he could not have done this had he not gone to Pakistan.
MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, how would you know that after this trip? What would you be looking for from the Pakistanis?
STEPHEN COHEN: On the Pakistani side, and the Indians will tell us as well as the Pakistanis, if we saw less support for outsiders, Afghans, Arabs, Afghans going into Kashmir. Perhaps Pakistan will continue to support Kashmiris but they would get rid of the foreigners involved. On the Indian side, hopefully see lessening of military pressure on the Kashmiri militants and some attempts to have a dialogue with Kashmiris on their side of the line of control.
MARGARET WARNER: That's what the President is calling for, a dialogue between India and Pakistan, Mr. Harrison. What are the prospects?
SELIG HARRISON: Well, I think the whole point is what Samina said. Within Pakistan, people are concerned about the priorities that the President talked about. But this regime is dominated by a group who have, keeping the pot boiling in Kashmir as their main agenda.
MARGARET WARNER: For ideological reasons.
SELIG HARRISON: They go back to the days of the Afghan War. We created this monster. We with our aid to Afghanistan and the way we administered it to the inter intelligence services in Pakistan led to a group in the military under the sponsorship which has grown stronger, not weaker, and I'm sure he talked to some nice moderate generals when he was in Pakistan, but I have a lot of friends who were former intelligence officers n Pakistan I talk to - they don't like what is going on. This is a regime dominated by Islamic fundamentalists. They are not going to let up on Kashmir. That is why I think it is important to focus the American national interest on getting a return to civilian rule. It may take several years. It has to be prepared for with redistricting and other electoral reforms but we have to start with getting a commitment. I think we can get it. We got General Musharraf to make a reference to national elections yesterday. Now we have to get them to say when.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you want a quick final word, Steve Cohen?
STEPHEN COHEN: I'd say that the President will not get a specific timetable but the Pakistan military wants to get out of power. If they don't want to get out of power, I agree with Mr. Harrison, if they stay in power, they have a prospect of ruining their own country.
MARGARET WARNER: Miss Ahmed, a specific timetable for elections?
SAMINA AHMED: This is part of the problem. I mean if the idea was to get a timetable for national elections a commitment and a very weak one doesn't serve the purpose. And that hasn't been forthcoming and is unlikely to be there.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you all three very much.