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October 16, 1999


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Scrub Pakistan Visit, Ackerman Urges Clinton

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A P Kamath

While the world continues to condemn martial law in Pakistan and the Canadian foreign minister wonders if Pakistan should be allowed to remain in the Commonwealth, Washington has confirmed that the administration has no plans to sell or transfer to any arms or equipment to Islamabad. The efforts to resume military ties with Pakistan, started before the army take-over, have apparently crashed.

Meanwhile, Congressman Gary L Ackerman (Democrat-NY), co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, who had joined other leaders in Washington in condemning the declaration of martial law in Pakistan, urged President Bill Clinton to "scrub" his proposed visit to Pakistan.

Though there have been strong whispers that Clinton may cancel the trip to the subcontinent partly because of the situation in Pakistan and partly because the Senate has defeated a treaty to ban underground nuclear testing, officially the trip is still on.

"President Clinton must visit India and Bangladesh to the salute the democracies in those nations," Ackerman asserted.

"In sharp contrast to the authoritarian coup in Pakistan, neighboring India was today proudly inaugurating a fresh tenure of a democratically-elected Vajpayee administration," he said on Wednesday.

He believes India needs American help much more after the army take-over in Pakistan because the military was at the helm in Pakistan during two "of the three defensive wars that India was forced to fight with its Islamic neighbor since 1947.

"And it is the army that has had a big hand in the terrorist movement in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, including last summer's misadventure in Kargil."

Ackerman also said he had been assured "by the highest levels in the administration there are absolutely no plans to provide Pakistan with any arms or related items."

Many prominent Congressmen echo Ackerman's sentiments. These include Benjamin A Gilman (Republican-NY); Sherrod Brown (Democrat-OH); Richard Gephardt (Democrat-MO); Sam Gejdenson (Democrat-CT); Jim Greenwood (R-PA); Rush Holt (D-NJ); Bill McCollum (R-FL); Robert Menendez (D-NJ);Frank Pallone, Jr (D-NJ); and Robert Wexler (D-FL).

Meanwhile, Congressman Pallone has announced that next week that he would introduce legislation to prevent the administration from waiving the Pressler Amendment prohibition on US military assistance to Pakistan.

This week, the House of Representatives approved the fiscal year 2000 Defense Appropriations Conference Report. It contains provisions giving the president broad waiver authority over several sanctions against India and Pakistan, including the Pressler Amendment.

Congressman Pallone's law, if passed, will result in a return to the status quo on the Pressler Amendment.

He said: "I believe Congress made a mistake in granting the President waiver authority over Pressler. My legislation would restore the sound and sensible American policy of not providing arms to Pakistan". He added he would be searching for another legislative vehicle to which the Pressler waiver prohibition could be attached as an amendment.

Meanwhile, Ackerman said there wasn't "any interest in the administration asking Congress for permission to sell or transfer any weapons to Islamabad.

"Senior officials have assured me that, despite the waiver authority the President will get on Pressler and Glenn amendments, there is no plan to exercise those waivers for arms sales to Pakistan -- not now and not in the foreseeable future.

"There is no intention, for that matter, to provide anything to Pakistan, except our insistence the country return to a democratic, civilian rule with elections taking place as soon as possible," the New York lawmaker added.

Ackerman, a leading member of the House International Relations Committee, said: "I have told the Administration that I believe Congress would consider it unacceptable for the Administration to use the waiver of the Glenn and Pressler amendments to give the rulers in Pakistan a fresh supply of American weapons. Any such move would violate the spirit and intent of the waiver authority which is being given to the President."

Even the supply of spare parts to Islamabad, "will be tantamount to rewarding the military usurpers --- or their nominal civilian puppet rulers -- in Islamabad for violating the Constitution of Pakistan," he said.

"It is important for everyone to understand that one of the main reasons Congress is giving the administration the new waiver authority is for the purpose of pushing US-India relations to a higher plane," he asserted. He felt the waivers should help America and New Delhi "emerge as strategic partners".

"The new waiver authority is not meant to be a tool for beginning a new arms relationship with Pakistan," he added.

"I also think it is important for the administration to begin taking tough action to tighten sanctions against the military rulers in Pakistan," he said.

Referring to the administration's immediate response to the army action, he said "to date, the administration has failed to declare General Pervez Musharraf's actions as a military coup".

"When a fired general overthrows a duly-elected civilian head of government, it looks like a coup, it talks like a coup, it walks like a coup because it is a coup! It is a military coup in Pakistan and not a 'military take-over'," Ackerman asserted.

"I am asking the Administration to immediately impose punitive measures against the new regime of General Musharraf. The Administration must invoke Section 508 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 1999, which prohibits US aid to any country whose elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree," Ackerman said. He added, "not that Pakistan is getting any aid that will then be interrupted. But this would be powerful symbolism."

Ackerman also urged the Clinton administration to instruct the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions not to approve any fresh loans to Pakistan as long as the coup in Islamabad was not undone and also to block any approved loans from being disbursed."

According to reports, Pakistan has finalized agreements with international banks earlier this summer for renewal of $ 877 million in commercial loans and struck a deal with Western governments to roll over $ 3.3 billion in credits under the umbrella of the Paris Club.

"These moves must be thwarted immediately," Representative Ackerman said, adding: "The military usurpers in Pakistan must be made to realize that capturing power by the barrel of the gun and imposing authoritarian rule comes with a very heavy price.

The coup d'etat in Pakistan has triggered a new level of uncertainty in the Indian subcontinent and has the potential to exacerbate the fragile situation at the India-Pakistan border. This bloodless military coup in Pakistan must not be rewarded in any manner.

"The military rulers in Pakistan must yield power to a civilian administration. There must be fresh elections in that country so that people can freely choose a new government. For free and fair elections to be conducted in Pakistan, the military should be barred from interfering because of the cloud the putsch has placed over this independent nation state, there is now a dire need for the United Nations to get involved. I strongly urge that there be United Nations-supervised elections in Pakistan so that Pakistani people can vote without fear or favor."

Ackerman also welcomed Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's statement of today reaffirming New Delhi's desire to have friendly relations with Islamabad. In his comments, Prime Minister Vajpayee had said: "We remain committed to developing friendly and co-operative ties with Pakistan based on mutual trust and confidence, for which the government of Pakistan needs to create the right environment."

"I welcome Prime Minister Vajpayee's statesman-like observation over the distressing developments in Pakistan," Ackerman said. "Both the United States and India have much at stake in restoring and preserving a stable, economically viable and a democratic Pakistan that reflects the true wishes of the people of Pakistan. Both the US and India have a special interest in ensuring that normalcy and duly-elected civilian rule return to Pakistan so that New Delhi and Islamabad could make efforts at normalizing their relations."

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