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US Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth
"We're clearly concerned about the tensions in the region"
 real 28k

Friday, 17 March, 2000, 20:49 GMT
Analysis: Clinton's balancing act
An Indian demonstrator holds up a banner
An Indian demonstrator protests at the Clinton visit
By US State Department correspondent Richard Lister

The governments in Washington, Delhi and Islamabad all agree that there is one thing they would like to see removed from the US-India-Pakistani relationship: the hyphen.
Pakistan in crisis

All during the Cold War - and after - successive US administrations have viewed one country through the prism of the other or, perhaps worse, dismissed the entire region as an amorphous, poverty stricken and volatile mass, which should be left well alone.

During the Cold War, India and the Soviet Union developed particularly close ties, and Washington developed its relationship with Pakistan as a counterbalance. But since the end of the Cold War the US, as the sole remaining superpower, has been wary of disturbing the fractious balance of power between the two sides, and has focused instead on the threats - and opportunities - presented by China and Russia.

Bill Clinton
There has been intense lobbying over the Clinton visit
The subcontinent has been left to stew in its own problems, with the result that India and Pakistan both developed atomic weapons; Islamabad's relationship with Washington has fallen into a deep slump - largely over terrorism concerns, and Delhi is building an increasingly important economy based on some of the highest import tariffs in the world.

The Kashmir factor

But there is now a realisation in Washington that the US can no longer stay on the sidelines, and if it fails to work with both sides on promoting security and economic liberalisation, Americans may have to pay a price in the future; either in terms of lost economic opportunities, or the impact of another - possibly nuclear - war over Kashmir.

Kashmir of course remains the major reason why American policymakers still tend to put a hyphen between India and Pakistan.

The CIA regards it as the most likely flashpoint of a nuclear war and President Clinton has said the US would be prepared to help mediate the conflict. But India says that would only complicate the situation further. So, the US focus is more on trying to keep the nuclear weapons programmes of the two sides in check, and preventing a nuclear stand-off between the two sides.

Indian protesters dressed as demons
Protesters say Mr Clinton will "blackmail" India into signing the test ban treaty
India's nuclear programme is considered to be the more advanced, and the US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, has had a series of meetings with the Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, to persuade the Indian Government to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, end the production of fissile material, curb weapons-related exports and enter a new dialogue with Pakistan.

Uncharted territory

Having been forced to pay attention to India and Pakistan after being completely surprised by their nuclear tests in 1998, the Clinton administration is now making a conscious effort to treat the two sides as important in their own right.

India, for its economic potential - particularly in the rapidly expanding high-tech industry, and Pakistan for its influence over the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan and those linked to recent terrorist attacks on the US and India.

With its continuing refusal to remove groups like the Harkat ul-Mujahadin from its territory, there has even been talk in Washington of adding Pakistan to the list of countries that support terrorism, which would trigger immediate - and punishing - US sanctions.

By rapidly easing the sanctions imposed on Pakistan in the wake of its nuclear tests (India was also sanctioned) the Clinton administration has made clear that it does not want to cripple Pakistan's already dire economy any further, so once again, dialogue with Islamabad remains the key to overcoming the terrorism concerns.

In many ways though, the region remains largely uncharted territory for the administration, with few real forums for dialogue between the US and either India or Pakistan, but much to talk about, especially if they want to remove that hyphen.
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Clinton in South Asia
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Key stories:
What did the trip achieve?
Protecting the president
South Asia's nuclear race
Clinton and the Kashmir question
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Americans eye South Asia
India's high-tech hopes
Village gets makeover
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Talking Point

 Kashmir: Should Clinton mediate?

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See also:

08 Mar 00 | South Asia
Pakistan hails Clinton visit
25 Feb 00 | South Asia
India urges Clinton to shun Islamabad
16 Feb 00 | South Asia
Intense lobbying over Clinton visit
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