CHIANG MAI, Thailand — U.S. President Bill Clinton’s recent visit to South Asia had both positive and negative moments.
On the positive side, the long overdue trip generated a tremendous amount of media coverage and a worldwide interest in the destiny of almost 1.5 billion people.
In general, Clinton skillfully negotiat- ed a diplomatic tightrope. The president’s primary focus on India was correct, and his message of a new bilateral U.S.-Indian bilateral relationship was well received and reciprocated, especially in the economic field. “India is mesmerized by Clinton,” wrote a noted Indian novelist.
The last-minute inclusion of a controversial stopover in Pakistan was wise in view of the long friendship between Washington and Islamabad. To omit the trip would have been a major diplomatic blunder.
Unfortunately, Clinton’s visit had a number of negative points.
First, the timing of the U.S. initiative could not have been more inappropriate, given the ongoing animosities between Pakistan and India, two perennial archrivals. Seven years of a U.S. Asian policy focused on China could hardly be balanced by this last-minute visit. Moreover, the sudden romance between New Delhi and Washington, combined with Clinton’s rather harsh treatment of Pakistan, fostered uneasiness in Beijing.
Several contradictions in U.S. policy became evident during the trip. One was Clinton’s praising of the virtues of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, despite the fact that the U.S. Senate has rejected the treaty. Naturally, both India and Pakistan did not take Clinton’s preaching seriously.
Another was Clinton’s emphasis on giving environmental advice to India, despite the fact that the U.S. has failed to ratify the global-warming treaty, and the high levels of U.S. emissions in general.
But the greatest contradiction in U.S. policy had to do Clinton’s distancing of Washington from the military regime in Islamabad. Such behavior appears hypocritical considering Washington’s close association with Pakistani military regimes during the Cold War.
It is also regrettable that Clinton’s calls for restraint in Kashmir, which were interpreted as mere platitudes by some analysts, did not go beyond conventional diplomatic vocabulary.
The slaughter of innocent Sikhs in a remote Kashmiri village, dramatically coinciding with Clinton’s presence in India, were one more tragic reminder of the deep chasm separating the two neighbors. Will the situation in Kashmir be anymore peaceful following the U.S. president’s warnings in both capitals, particularly after the Himalayan snows start to melt?
One final point concerns the rejection of globalization under a U.S. aegis, which was eloquently expressed during a banquet speech by Indian President Kocheril Raman Narayanan. In this age of democracy, “globalization does not mean the end of history or geography. The fact that the world is a global village does not mean that it will be run by one village headman.”
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