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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

CRS Report to Congress

President Clinton's South Asia Trip

Barbara Leitch LePoer
Analyst in Asian Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division

Updated March 31, 2000

President Clinton's March visit to South Asia focused primarily on broadening and deepening ties with India. The trip -- which included stops in Bangladesh and Pakistan -- was complicated by the downward spiral in India-Pakistan relations in the past year and Pakistan's military coup. In the course of his visit, the President addressed a number of important U.S. policy issues, including economic reform, nuclear proliferation, South Asia regional stability, terrorism, and democratization. This report will not be updated. For further background, see CRS Issue Brief 93097, India-U.S. Relations; CRS Issue Brief 94041, Pakistan-US Relations; and CRS Report RS20489, Bangladesh: Background and U.S. Relations.

Overview of President Clinton's Visit

President Clinton's March 19-26, 2000, visit to South Asia represents a major initiative by the Administration to set U.S.?India relations on a new plane of increased cooperation across a broad spectrum, including: economic ties; regional stability; nuclear proliferation concerns; security and counterterrorism; environmental protection; clean energy production; and disease control. The President and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee agreed in a vision statement to institutionalize dialogue between the two countries through a range of high-level meetings and working groups on the various areas of cooperation, capped by regular bilateral "summits" between the leaders of the two countries. Prime Minister Vajpayee accepted an invitation to visit the United States this year. Close and supportive relations with Bangladesh also were reaffirmed in a one-day visit to that country at the beginning of the trip. At the end of the trip, President Clinton made a six-hour stop in Islamabad to reaffirm U.S.-Pakistan friendship and to urge the military leadership to set a timetable for the restoration of democracy. During an address to the Indian parliament and a televised address to the Pakistani people, the President urged both countries to reconsider their nuclear programs and to restart talks on Kashmir.

U. S. presidential visits to South Asia -- a region comprising nearly one-quarter of the world's population -- have been few and far between. President Carter made the most recent visit to India, in 1978, preceded by President Nixon in 1969 and President Eisenhower in 1959. Nixon is the only president to have visited Pakistan, also in 1969. This was the first visit to Bangladesh by a U.S. President. By way of comparison, five U.S. Presidents have visited China: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. Recent visits to the United States by South Asian leaders include: Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao (1994); Pakistan Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto (1995) and Nawaz Sharif (1999); and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed (1997).

Complicating Factor: India-Pakistan Rivalry

High on the Clinton Administration agenda for a number of years, the President's visit to South Asia had been put off numerous times: by nuclear proliferation concerns, including the two countries' nuclear tests in 1998; by the fall of the Indian government in April 1999; and by the military coup in Pakistan in October 1999. The recent trip was especially complicated by the Pakistan coup led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the current nearly total breakdown in India-Pakistan relations. On the issue of whether to include a stop in Pakistan on the President's itinerary, the decision inevitably hinged on the Administration's desire to keep lines of communication open with Pakistan and to express U. S. concerns on restoring democracy, ratcheting down tensions with India, and cracking down on terrorist groups. Moreover, in announcing his decision, Clinton made it clear that the visit to Islamabad could not be construed as approval of the military government, saying "...it would be a grave mistake for people to think that my going represents some sort of endorsement of a nondemocratic process which occurred there."1

India-Pakistan rivalry dates from the partition of British India in 1947. The two nations have fought three wars -- in 1947-48, 1965, and 197 1. Pakistan's nuclear program was prompted by India's 1974 nuclear test and by Pakistan's defeat by India in the 1971 war and consequent loss of East Pakistan, now independent Bangladesh. The earlier wars were over Kashmir, which both countries claim. A ceasefire line places one-third of Kashmir (Azad [free] Kashmir) under Pakistani control, while the remainder comprises the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The current separatist revolt in Jammu and Kashmir, begun in 1989, has cost more than 25,000 lives. India blames Pakistan for supporting Kashmiri militants with weapons and training; Pakistan maintains that it provides only political and moral support.

Aside from a brief warming trend in early 1999 -- when Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee rode a bus to Lahore, Pakistan to meet with then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -- bilateral relations have deteriorated since the nuclear tests. In May-July 1999, the two countries teetered on the brink of a fourth war. In fighting that cost each side some 500 casualties, Indian soldiers sought to dislodge Pakistan-supported infiltrators near Kargil on the Indian side of the line of control (LOC) that divides Kashmir. Following a July meeting between Sharif and President Clinton in Washington, the infiltrators withdrew across the LOC.

Tensions between India and Pakistan have remained extremely high since the Kargil affair wound down in late July 1999. Cross-border firing and shelling -- one barometer of bilateral relations -- continues at high levels. In August, Pakistan accused India of shooting down a naval aircraft over its own territory, killing 16. India countered that it was shot down over Indian territory. India has accused Pakistan of sending a flood of militants into Kashmir and increasingly targeting isolated police posts and civilians. According to Indian government sources, 1999 casualties in Jammu and Kashmir state totaled 821 civilians, 356 security personnel, and 1,082 militants.2 Pakistan also has accused India of crossborder raids by Indian soldiers. Both sides have reverted to former tactics of roughing up and expelling each others' diplomats and raising their political rhetoric to a fever pitch. Some observers have pointed to warning signals that another clash in Kashmir could occur. 3

U.S. Policy Concerns and Presidential Trip Goals

Economic. After a decade of on-again off-again economic reforms and market opening, India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is gearing up to promote new economic liberalization measures that it hopes will attract $ 10 billion annually in foreign direct investment. Once seen as favoring domestic business and diffident about foreign involvement, the BJP has gradually embraced globalization. In the September-October 1999 parliamentary election, the BJP-led coalition increased its strength and stability. it then acted quickly to remove foreign exchange controls and push through parliament important legislation opening the insurance industry to foreign investment. Indian state governments also are competing with each other to provide investment-friendly environments. Clinton visited the financial capital of Bombay and the up-and-coming computer center of Hyderabad (nicknamed Cyberabad), located in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. The state's economic reform-minded chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu, has, with his business friendly policies, helped attract an array of U.S. investors to the state, including Microsoft, General Electric, Oracle, IBM, and Intel. The United States is India's largest trading partner and source of foreign investment. U.S. policy supports continued strong commercial ties with India and advocates further reform of India's trade and investment policies.

U.S. Goals. Economic ties were a major focus of the President's visit, during which U.S. companies signed agreements on $4 billion in projects with Indian and Bangladeshi firms. Clinton also announced $2 billion in government financial support for U. S. exports to India through the U.S. Export-Import Bank. To further expand bilateral economic cooperation, the United States and India agreed to establish working groups on trade; clean energy and environment; and science and technology. U.S.-India agreements also were signed on environmental protection, clean energy production, and combating global warming. A $50 million U.S. Agency for International Development program will be aimed at accelerating investment and trade in clean energy in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.4 The President also lifted sanctions on some small U.S. assistance programs, including an AID initiative to provide technical assistance to strengthen Indian financial markets and regulatory agencies. On the social welfare side, U.S.-India cooperation agreements were signed on efforts to combat polio, tuberculosis, malaria, and FWAIDS, as well as the trafficking of women and children in South Asia.

Nuclear Proliferation. On May 11 and 13, 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear tests, breaking a 24-year self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing. Pakistan followed, claiming 5 tests on May 28, 1998, and an additional test on May 30. The tests, conducted without prior announcements, presented a serious setback for the two decades of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation efforts in South Asia. On May 13, 1998, President Clinton imposed economic and military sanctions on India, mandated by section 102 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA.), and applied the same sanctions to Pakistan on May 30. After nearly two years oftalks between U. S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers, there appears to be little progress on nuclear nonproliferation issues. The United States has pressed both countries to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Currently under self-imposed testing moratoriums, both India and Pakistan indicated they would sign the CTBT by September 1999. Neither has yet done so, however, instead enjoying the breathing space provided by the failure of the U. S. Senate to ratify the treaty in 1999. Bangladesh ratified the CTBT in early March 2000.

U.S. Goals. In his addresses to the Indian parliament and the Pakistani people, President Clinton acknowledged that both nations have the right to determine their own security needs. He then inquired whether they were really more secure now than before their nuclear tests; whether nuclear weapons make war with each other "less likely or simply more deadly;" and whether a costly arms race will help achieve their hope of economic development? The President urged both countries to take the following steps: sign the CTBT; stop production of fissile material and join the fissile material control treaty negotiations; and institute tighter export controls on goods and equipment related to their nuclear programs. The talks between Talbott and Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh will continue on a semiannual basis.5

Regional Stability. U.S. policy analysts have long considered the continuing arms race between India and Pakistan as posing perhaps the most likely prospect for the future use of nuclear weapons. India-Pakistan tensions currently are at their highest level in nearly three decades. While Pakistan consistently has tried to make Kashmir the centerpiece of any international agenda on South Asia, India, as consistently, has maintained that Kashmir is a domestic problem with bilateral implications at most. Despite the concerns of international observers that rising tensions may get out of control, the leaders of both countries are quick to assure that there is no danger of nuclear war. Recently queried on the topic Vajpayee replied: "No. There is no possibility. I completely rule out a nuclear war." In a less than reassuring rejoinder, Musharraf stated: "I do not think it will get out of control. They know that there is a deterrence in place on our side."6 India recently proposed a 28% ($3 billion) increase in its military spending for the coming year, pointing to the Kargil conflict as justification. About the only remaining legacy from the promising Lahore talks of 1999 is the Lahore-New Delhi daily bus, which somehow has survived the tensions of the past year. Neither country's leadership has expressed much interest in restarting talks, partly because of domestic pressures on both sides.

U.S. Goals. Expressing U. S. concern over the gravity of the current downward spiral of the India-Pakistan relationship, Clinton noted during the trip the importance of having "lines of communication that may be necessary in a crisis," such as last year's Kargil conflict. The President told both countries that, while the United States will not mediate the Kashmir dispute, it will lend support wherever possible to help India and Pakistan return to the Lahore peace process. The President urged both India and Pakistan to create the proper climate for peace and to adopt a policy of the 4 Rs in their bilateral relations: restraint; respect for the line of control; renewal of dialogue; and rejection of violence.7

Terrorism. Secretary of State Albright predicted that countering terrorism would be high on the President's agenda when he met with Pakistani leaders. U.S. concern centers on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, particularly those run by Osama bin Laden, believed to be the mastermind behind the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.8 India, which claims that much of the Kashmir insurgency originates in Pakistan and Afghanistan training camps, has lobbied hard to isolate Pakistan internationally and to have it placed on the U.S. list of states that sponsor international terrorism. The United States has resisted this pressure, although a Pakistan-based group, the Harakat ul-Mujahadin (HUM), has been on the list since 1997. The HUM, which is one of the major militant groups in Kashmir, is believed responsible for the kidnap-disappearance of five Westerners (including American Donald Hutchings) in 1995. The HUM also allegedly was behind the December 1999 hijacking to Afghanistan of an Indian Airlines plane. During the President's visit to India, the issue of terrorism was starkly highlighted by a terrorist attack on a Sikh village in Kashmir in which 40 civilians were massacred. India blamed Muslim militant groups, which denied responsibility for the attack.

U.S. Goals. In talks with Gen. Musharraf, President Clinton reportedly expressed strong U.S. opposition to terrorism throughout the region and pressed the general to use Pakistan's influence with the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan concerning terrorist training camps and their continued hosting of bin Laden. Clinton also urged respect for the Kashmir LOC and efforts to ensure an end to violence. Musharraf reportedly agreed to take up the issue of closing down terrorist camps in Afghanistan when he visited that country and to assist in finding information on the fate of Donald Hutchings.9 In January 2000, the United States and India agreed to establish a Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism, representing, in part, an acknowledgment of New Delhi's concerns.

Pakistan Democratization. Gen. Musharraf has given no indication of when he expects to return the Pakistan government to civilian, democratic rule. Critics complain that he has little to show in the way of promised reforms for his first six months in power; the popular enthusiasm with which his takeover of the government initially was greeted reportedly is dwindling. However, there is not much enthusiasm for the return to the perceived poor governance and corruption of the Benazir BhuttoNawaz Sharif decade. Moreover, some observers express concern over the prospect of Muslim radical groups stepping into a leadership vacuum. On March 23, Gen. Musharraf announced the schedule for local elections to be held December 2000-August 2001.10

U.S. Goals. Prior to the visit, Clinton and other Administration officials made it clear that the President's stopover did not represent U. S. approval or acquiescence in the current military regime. Clinton reportedly urged Musharraf to develop a timetable and a roadmap for restoring democracy at the top, as well as at the local level.

  1. Arshad Mohammed, "Clinton denies endorsing coup with Pakistan visit," Reuters, March 9, 2000.

  2. India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism," Reuters, March 2, 2000.

  3. Paul Taylor, "Fear of Kashmir war prompts Clinton trip," Reuters, March 9, 2000.

  4. U.S. Department of State, "Fact Sheet: New financing to expand India-U. S. trade," Washington File, March 24, 2000; U.S. Department of State, "Fact Sheet: Clinton's India Trip, Environment, Energy, Global Warming," Washington File, March 22, 2000.

  5. U.S. Department of State, "Text: President Clinton's address to India's parliament," Washington File, March 22,2000; U.S. Department of State, "Text: Clinton's remarksmi greeting to the people of Pakistan," Washington File, March 25, 2000.

  6. "Tense words, tough talk," Washington Post, March 12, 2000: B 1, B4.

  7. U.S. Department of State, "Text: President Clinton's address to India's parliament," Washington File, March 22, 2000; U.S. Departmentof State, "Text: Clinton's remarksmi greeting to the people of Pakistan," Washington File, March 25, 2000.

  8. U.S. Department of State, "Albright remarks to Asia Society on President's S. Asia trip," Washington File, March 14, 2000.

  9. U.S. Department of State, "Transcript: Senior officials briefing on President's Pakistan meetings," Washington File, March 25, 2000; Hasan Akhtar, "US shares concerns over South Asia: CE sure talks will improve relations," Dawn (Karachi), March 26, 2000.

  10. U.S. Department of State, "Transcript: Senior officials briefing on President's Pakistan meetings," Washington File, March 25, 2000.


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