Index

March 14, 2000

PRESS BRIEFING BY AMBASSADOR SHIRIN TAHIR-KHELI AND AMBASSADOR FRANK WISNER ON PRESIDENT'S TRIP TO INDIA, BANGLADESH AND PAKISTAN

4:17 P.M. EST





                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary
______________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release                          March 14, 2000


                             PRESS BRIEFING BY
                       AMBASSADOR SHIRIN TAHIR-KHELI
                        AND AMBASSADOR FRANK WISNER
           ON PRESIDENT'S TRIP TO INDIA, BANGLADESH AND PAKISTAN

               The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room


4:17 P.M. EST


          MR. HAMMER:  Good afternoon.  It is my pleasure to introduce two
distinguished South Asia experts who will be briefing you today.  We have
with us Ambassador Frank Wisner, who held and holds the career rank of
ambassador.  He has had a very long and distinguished career in the Foreign
Service, starting in 1961, but also served this last tour as U.S.
ambassador to India from '94 to '97.  And he will begin with a
presentation.  He's got to run and catch a flight so I would then encourage
any quick questions for him.

          But we also have Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli, who is at the
Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Director of South Asia
Institute.  But also, remarkably, spent six years at the National Security
Council from '84 to '90, serving five different national security advisors,
which is quite a feat.

          So anyway, Mr. Ambassador, if you would start?

          AMBASSADOR WISNER:  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.  I
am pleased to be able to come and talk to you on the eve of the President's
trip to South Asia.  It is an extraordinarily important event for all of us
who follow that part of the world, have business, in my case, interests
there and care very much about what's going to happen.  There has been no
President in South Asia in 22 years.  My memory -- that's for India.  My
memory for Pakistan, President Nixon was the last president to visit.  And
yet, 25 percent or just slightly under the world's population lives in
South Asia.  It will be extraordinarily important to the United States in
this century to maintain security in Asia, to see America's economic
prospects advance as that region grows economically and you really can't
face some of the major challenges of the new century without South Asia,
challenges of population, the environment, the new diseases, HIV/AIDS, TB,
malaria strains that we have not known before.

          In the economic dimension, the President is going to be facing a
situation that is truly unprecedented for American industry.  We have, for
some time, been India's largest trader and investor.  Today, we are looking
at Indian investments of nearly $250 billion in power over the next several
years; at least $100 billion in telecommunications.  Indian industry will
be retooled and much will be sourced in this country, and you have a
growing Indian middle class with a taste for consumer goods -- many of
which are inclined towards the United States.

          Beyond the old economy, if you will, is the new economy.
Information technology, if you think about it for a moment, between 30 and
50 percent of Silicon Valley start-ups were launched by Indian engineers,
and about 30 percent of the world's software engineers are Indian or of
Indian origin.

          India's, in addition, a small trader on the international scene.
And when you look at the challenges the United States faces in shaping a
global trading regime compatible with our interests -- in agriculture, in
services, in information technology, issues of labor, issues of
environmental sensitivity, the Indians are right at the center of shaping
the international consensus, and there is a great deal of overlap between
what they're after and we're after.

          India, which will be the focal point of the visit, is changing.
She's entering the second generation of her reforms.  She's moving from an
administered to a regulated economy.  She looks like she will be
registering about a seven percent rate of growth; she will keep that up.
The perennial Indian factor of poverty will begin to be alleviated.

          The President will have to face the great challenges of Indian
reform.  The budget deficit, privatization, broadening and deepening
financial markets, and dealing with the shortages of infrastructure --
telecommunications, transportation, and power.

          The visit is a terrific opportunity, therefore, for the United
States to root itself in the region, to get some traction on the issues to
create a privileged position for us as we go forward.

          But it comes also at a time in which there are rising tensions in
South Asia, and these tensions have to be addressed.  From Kargil to the
coup in Pakistan, to the skyjacking, to now-increasing violence along the
line of control, the region is showing a marked increase in tension.  These
issues must be addressed -- ironically, only quietly and in diplomatic
terms, for to take them public in India and in Pakistan is to distort and
to cause great trouble for American diplomacy.  We need to be clear about
our principles, but quiet in our pursuit of it.

          Today, Mrs. Albright, the Secretary of State, laid out an agenda
of great importance, and I recommend heartily those who haven't seen it
take a moment to read it.  She came down firmly that the United States will
continue to pursue its nonproliferation dialogue with the nations of South
Asia.  But she made explicitly clear that in the nuclear age, borders
cannot be changed.  They must be respected.  The differences have got to be
pursued, be they Kashmir or any of the other perennial problems that have
been the troubles of South Asia.

          She made it clear the United States will not mediate unless asked
by all sides.  But at the same time, it's critically important that the
President keep lines of communications open to both parties, India and
Pakistan in this case.  And she underscored the importance of respecting
the line of control in Kashmir and reducing the violence that is occurring
along it.  Mrs. Albright made it absolutely clear that the use of terror
across frontiers and inside of other nations can't be permitted and will be
actively discouraged by the United States, whether it flows from
Afghanistan or stems out of Pakistan.

          We aim, therefore, I hope, as the President goes forward, to be
able to create -- turn a new page in a relationship with South Asia,
notably with India, the dominant power, to differentiate America's approach
to Pakistan on the one hand and India on the other, which is increasingly a
global player.  To be able to make it clear that we won't take advantage of
India with respect to our relationships with China any more than we will
take advantage with Pakistan in a growing American relationship with India.

          We have a new generation growing up, many taking power.  It is a
time for a new vision.  India will be as important a factor in Asia's
future and in our relationship in the century ahead as China has emerged
these days.

          With those opening remarks and if Shirin -- take a couple of
questions or -- good.  Great.

          Q    You mentioned that first -- this is the first visit in 22
years.  Why it took 22 years for the world's richest democracy to reach to
the largest democracy in the world.  And also what do you think the
relations between the two countries today and after presidential visit?

          AMBASSADOR WISNER:  Right.  Well, there are many reasons
historically why the President of the United States and administrations
have not given importance, the same importance to South Asia they have
given other regions.  Much was rooted in the Cold War, where India was seen
to be closer to the erstwhile Soviet Union.  This restricted our diplomacy,
raised the level of tension in the relationship.  India looked at the
United States in that regard as favoring Pakistan.  We had disagreements of
a variety.

          We had no broad base for the relationship.  The economic
interactions were very narrow.  There wasn't a way to accommodate the
differences.

          Today, we have a real chance to see the relationship broaden,
politically, economically, right across the board, so that you are able to
cope with those differences and manage those differences.  I think we are
facing a very different day.

          I have just come back from India.  Those of you who are going on
the trip, I think you will sense a vibrancy and enthusiasm about a new day
with the United States, a new relationship, and it gives me quite a lot of
confidence.

          Q    Despite the Secretary of State's tough words, do you see any
short-term hopes of accomplishing any nonproliferation commitments from
India or Pakistan?

          AMBASSADOR WISNER:  My main hope, personally -- I am not speaking
for the administration -- is that the nonproliferation norms that are being
pursued, CTBT, fissile material cutoff bans, are ways of indicating
restraint, ways of -- that South Asia can make a statement that they --
that south Asia wishes to hold under control the nuclear age.  And then to
move beyond that to have a small and smaller -- a small nuclear capability.
It is inevitable there is going to be one.  Small and de-alerted
capability.

          I think the role the President can play on a trip like this is,
of course, to encourage South Asian nations to seek to join global norms as
part of our global policies.  But to try to create the climate of trust and
confidence between himself and this country and the parties in South Asia
that permits us to talk about the sensitive nuclear issues in a quiet way,
and to talk about regional tensions.

          Yes, sir in the back of the room?

          Q    What's your understanding of the relationship between the
Pakistani government and the terrorist organizations that operate either --
be that in Kashmir or in Afghanistan itself?  In other words, is it direct
control, is it informal contact?

          AMBASSADOR WISNER:  Well, it's a matter of considerable debate.
And I think it is very difficult to prove that there is a direct organic
link between the Pakistani government or its agencies and organizations
that are directly responsible for terror.  Over the years, these
organizations have, however, found haven in Pakistan and they have exported
terrorists across the border into India.

          The actions along the line of control do have an active element
of Pakistani involvement -- the arms, munitions, the artillery screens that
are laid before infiltration takes place.  Pakistan has traditionally
argued that this is part of a liberation movement as opposed to terrorism.

          But when you get down to strictly defined terrorism -- issues
like the skyjacking, the recent Indian Airlines skyjacking, there is, to
the best of my knowledge -- I certainly haven't seen it -- that proveable
link that puts this issue on the doorstep of the Pakistani government.

          Q    Ambassador, the Army General Musharraf overthrew a
democratically-elected prime minister in the fall.  He has since required
that justices swear allegiance to him.  He's throwing journalists in jail.
Nawaz Sharif is in jail, his lawyer's been killed.  What's the President of
the United States doing going to see a man like that?

          AMBASSADOR WISNER:  I feel very comfortable -- I've spent a life
in diplomacy, and I have no, obviously, personally, and I would hope the
President and I know the President feels very strongly about the importance
of restoring democracy, the rule of law, strengthening governance in
Pakistan.  Those issues are -- I'm certain the President is going to deal
with each one of them while he's there.

          But I believe fundamentally, if you're going to do business with
a country as important as Pakistan certainly is, at a time when there are
real issues on the table, you have to be able to communication.  And to be
able to communication, you've got to communication at the very highest
levels.

          The history of the past has been, we have influence with
Pakistan.  We were able to play a role in the Kargil event.  If we decide
not to communication, then we don't have influence, we can't use our
influence in a constructive way.  So I support wholeheartedly the
President's decision to take the -- to go to Pakistan, to engage the chief
executive, and to engage the leadership of the country.

          Q    -- meeting with him, what if anything can the President do
to avoid sending the wrong signal to other countries on the brink, like
Indonesia?

          AMBASSADOR WISNER:  Well, I'm certain the President will find
both the right words and the right attitudes.  All of our principles bind
us in that direction.  I understand the President is going to be speaking
publicly.  There will be private discussions as well as public ones.

          Q    You mean addressing on television the Pakistani people?

          AMBASSADOR WISNER:  Yes, I don't know the details of the
President's trip.  I'm not in the administration.  But I'm absolutely
certain he is speaking, and if he speaks, he will not be shy about
asserting America's commitments to democratic institutions.

          MR. HAMMER:  -- going, but we have Shirin --

          AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI:  I would like to reinforce what
Ambassador Wisner had said, and just add one small note to that.  And that
is the downturn in the relationship between India and Pakistan, which has
occurred in the last year since the opening in Lahore seemed so promising.
I think it has created a situation which is dangerous and where the
constructive engagement of the United States at the highest level -- and
that is from the President of the United States -- can make a difference.
If there's one thing that I learned in all those years on the NSC, when the
engagement with India started to be very active, as was the relationship
with Pakistan growing, that presidential attention highlights the need for
restraint in the subcontinent.  It is something that should be obvious to
the leadership there.

          But it has -- if you look at the list of agreements that India
and Pakistan have been able to reach on confidence-building, they've
essentially been all those that the United States not only supported and
encouraged, but also in many ways initiated.  So I think that at least in
the private conversations, which is where probably this belongs, it's a
very important time for the President's attention to be focused on South
Asia, from South Asia's point of view as well.

          Q    Are you going to be -- the President has said that he would
get involved in mediating the Kashmir issue only if both sides are
requesting that he do so.  And I was wondering if you had any knowledge or
any sign that India would be interested in having the United States or the
President get involved.

          AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI:  Well, all signs are, and the Indians
have not been shy about indicating that they are definitely not interested
in having the United States, even as was put by the Prime Minister of
India, I believe, yesterday, no matter how well-intentioned, should the
President be involved, which is, I think, a good start in point.

          However, I think the President is in a unique position to
encourage the fact that while the United States accepts the fact that India
does not want mediation, then it is important for them, the two countries,
to engage bilaterally.  In other words, you cannot say that bilateral
engagement is all that is wanted, and then have a total absence of a
dialogue.

          Today, India and Pakistan have zero interaction at the government
level and at any level. I mean, this is unheard of in the recent histories
of countries with antagonisms like that.  You did not have it in the
East-West, you did not have it in the Middle East.  Track two, track one,
anything.

          So I think it highlights the need for engagement, and I don't see
anybody, other than the President of the United States, in this position to
be able to bring that to the notice of the two leaders.

          Q    Indian officials seem to be upset about the decision to make
a stop in Islamabad.  Do you feel that they understand now the reasons and
that it will have had an adverse effect on the visit to India?

          AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI:  Well, the Indian officials have,
themselves, said, and I think they have sort of stepped back a bit from the
extremely tough position they took on this issue.  I think that they have
been satisfied that the U.S. is not going over there to bless a military
government, that the President of the United States needs to have lines of
communications open.  And, actually, it is in India's interest as well that
the collapse of Pakistan is not going to help anybody, particularly those
in Pakistan's immediate neighborhood.

          So I think that the focus has shifted from that aspect of the
trip to saying, okay, in what ways can the U.S.-Indian relationship be
buttressed as a result of this visit.  So I think that change has occurred
and I am certainly one who is very glad that it has.  Because I think a lot
of energy was spent for weeks and weeks on this issue.

          Q    You mentioned the possibility of the collapse of Pakistan.
Given the economic problems there and the constitutional crisis, how
serious do you see that threat and what sort of scenario would follow?

          AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI:  To answer the last part of your
question, the scenario -- any scenario that follows -- I mean, it's a
nightmare scenario; I don't see any good scenarios coming out of that
particular event, if should it occur.

          Countries and nations have a way of going on so, you know,
sometimes it is easy to sort of write them off.  But nonetheless, I think
the conditions facing Pakistan are severe.  And the irony and the sadness
of it has been that these conditions, many of them, were created under the
only sort of longest period of democratic rule that Pakistan has had.  In
other words, the failure of civilian elected leadership to deliver on the
promise that was handed them with such hope only a decade ago has made it
very, very much tougher, I think, for the country.

          The economic crisis is really the most urgent, and there are some
steps being taken which I think are critically needed.  The economic team
that they've put together, according to everyone's review including the
harshest critics of Pakistan, is a first-class team.  But of course, the
economy cannot be turned around very quickly.  So in the interim, the
government has to figure out a way of managing social difficulties,
including the question of sectarianism and law and order.  I'd put those
two as the issues.

          Now, these two conditions have been managed in recent months.
It's probably one of the few things that the military government has been
able to deliver, because they have been able to curtail the internal
violence, which was besetting all Pakistani cities on a regular, nightly
basis.  But the social, underlying causes, many people think are economic,
so until you turn the economic situation around, the problem is still very
acute.

          Q    -- anything that the President can do on this trip that
would help that?

          AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI:  I think -- you know, presidential visits
-- and despite all those years in the NSC, we were never able to get the
presidents out there -- but presidential visits do many things.  They not
only show the flag on behalf of the U.S., but they also are an indication
of U.S. interest.  This is a non-tangible but very important thing in South
Asia, where perceptions and signals loom far larger than they do in the
Western world.

          So the presence of the President, obviously despite a lot of
advice not to go, I think is a very strong indication of American continued
interest in a stable, secular Pakistan that is at peace with itself.  Those
are the kinds of    perceptions that I think can help in terms of getting
the kind of economic assistance, not to mention the votes necessary in IMF
or the World Bank, et cetera.

          American interest is sort of the key to Western interest, which
is sort of the underpinning of the international financial institutions.
So, yes, I think by the President going, this does give them an opportunity
-- it doesn't guarantee success.  That will have to come from Pakistan.

          Q    The collapse of Pakistan -- going back to that -- Pakistan
had been ruled by the military and by the elected governments.  So both are
-- both could not rule the country, so who will rule the country or who
will bring the changes?  Because what most Pakistanis are feeling is that
it's not the government that is corrupt or military is corrupt, but maybe
because of the -- they are spending or financing the terrorism across the
border.  That's what India feels, that's what most Pakistanis feel.  So
what is the future?  I mean, if both have ruled, but who can bring the
changes?

          AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI:  Well, I don't agree with one part of
what you're saying, that it's the involvement with India or what's going on
in Kashmir that's bringing the collapse of Pakistan.  Defense expenditures
are of course high in the subcontinent as such.  India has just raised its
defense expenditure by 28 percent.  Pakistan has, along with debt
servicing, about 40 percent of the budget goes to these two items and has
continued to do so.

          I think the malaise that has overcome the society and the
disillusionment with institutions, and the breakdown of institutions, which
unfortunately was started with the political leadership under -- is of the
severest kind.  And I think Pakistanis who have not given up on their
country feel that it's the revival of these institutions which is terribly,
terribly important before you can put the country politically back on the
right track.

          So I think the debate there is not between who is the more
corrupt of the two.  Corruption is endemic and corruption is endemic in
South Asia for many reasons.  But there are other countries that have
managed to put that aside and even with large pockets of poverty have a
thriving middle class, as has India.  So things can coexist.  The question
is, how do you manage them, where do you put the emphasis and who comes out
ahead.

          Q    The people pay the price.

          AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI:  Yes, but the breakup of Pakistan
actually means that more people will suffer and more people will pay the
price.  So this is a chance.  And a lot of Pakistanis, thinking Pakistanis
say this really is the last chance to try and see if -- Pakistan can be
revived.

          Q    How India can help, being a neighbor --

          AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI:  That's a wonderful question and I am
glad you asked that.  Because ever since leaving government, I spent all my
sort of existence trying to see if there are enough senior people in India
and Pakistan who actually want to try and build a different future.

          I think India can help in many ways, long-term, mid-term,
immediately.  I think immediately India can help by engaging Pakistan, by
not focusing on the isolation of Pakistan, which happened as a result of
the coup.  But India and Pakistan have fought two-and-a-half or three,
depending on who you speak to, wars and they have overcome that bitterness
and started afresh.

          The, I think, time has come for these two countries to actually
try and do that.  So India can immediately do something psychologically and
otherwise.  But there are ways in which the two countries can interact that
is productive.  The economic opportunities, for example, of trade --
India-Pakistan trade, official level -- is $100 million.  The unofficial
trade is $2.5 billion.  It comes via smuggling or via third countries.  So
obviously they're trading; it's just that the governments lose revenue, and
they don't build those habits of cooperation that are terribly, terribly
important for any region.  And South Asia is now practically the only
region where there is local cooperation on the trade side, and any of these
other issues.

          But the disparity in size, and the importance of India, will
hopefully make India comfortable enough with its role in the region that it
can act the bigger power that it is, in terms of its smaller neighbors.  I
think that has already begun to happen, but I hope that that will
accelerate as India feels more comfortable.

          Q    Is there a danger that all the talk of nuclear
proliferation, of the turmoil in the region, will overshadow economic
development issues and other matters, particularly in India, that the
President will be dealing with?

          AMBASSADOR TAHIR-KHELI:  I think there is that danger.  As I
listen to all the very, very interesting and informative analyses leading
up to the President's visit, I'm struck by the promise of the economic
relationship that Ambassador Wisner and others have referred to.  But I'm
also struck by the fact that the promise of the economic miracle that could
be India is held back by this fear on the part of those who would otherwise
be investing more freely, regarding the possibility of a nuclear exchange.

          In this open world, where capital can go anywhere -- and I don't
mean just capital in terms of transfers in and out, but investments on the
ground: infrastructure, communications, a whole host of other things -- you
find that you've got to be somewhat competitive for global capital.  And I
think that that would be even more enhanced were there to be some modicum
of peace between India and Pakistan.

          And I think it's doable.  Indian leaders have tried to reach out.
They did something very unique in Lahore.  And I think the Indian Prime
Minister himself has said that, you know, you can't change geography; that
in the end, we have to deal with each other.  So one has to sort of hope
that -- you know, these are old civilizations with some new problems, that
they somehow find a way of doing them.  And the President of the United
States going, I think, refocuses energies in the region and outside on this
part of the world.

          Thank you.

          Q    Thank you very much.

                           END                4:45 P.M. EST