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Was There More to the Clinton-Sharif Talks?

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    Was There More to the Clinton-Sharif Talks?


    Was There More to the Clinton-Sharif Talks?
    1930 GMT, 990709

    U.S. President Bill Clinton met in Washington on July 4 with Pakistani Prime Minister
    Nawaz Sharif to discuss the continuing conflict in the disputed Kashmir region. The
    meeting, called by Sharif, concluded with the Pakistani leader agreeing to call for the
    withdrawal of Moslem fundamentalist guerrillas from positions in the Indian controlled
    section of the disputed Kashmir region. Sharif’s agreement appears to be just the
    capitulation he came to Washington in hopes of avoiding. However, examining the issues
    in Pakistan as well as events in neighboring Afghanistan suggest that there may be more
    to the deal than appears on the surface.

    Sharif approved the dispatch of Pakistani backed guerrillas – and possibly Pakistani troops –
    to the Indian side of Kashmir’s Line of Control (LoC), in part, as a means of winning
    domestic support from Pakistan’s military and Moslem fundamentalists and, in part, in
    hopes of pushing the international community to intervene in the dispute. While the
    infiltrators scored some initial successes, the Indian military has been making slow but
    steady progress in driving out the guerrillas. Meanwhile, the international community,
    worried about a possible escalation of the conflict between these two newest nuclear
    powers, almost universally blamed Pakistan for the incursion and refused to become
    involved in the dispute. Sharif’s options are to escalate the conflict – further worsening
    Pakistan’s international isolation and risking a much more substantial loss, or withdrawing
    the forces – risking a domestic outcry and possibly his career.

    Neither option is attractive, and having been soundly rebuffed when he went to Beijing for
    support, Sharif turned to the U.S. in a last ditch effort to salvage some semblance of victory
    from his losing venture. Yet he came away from the U.S. talks with apparently very little.
    He has to withdraw the forces from Kashmir. What did he seek and receive in return? As
    even Sharif knew the U.S. was neither going to politically nor militarily support a Moslem
    fundamentalist movement in waging war in Kashmir – reportedly linked to the Afghan
    Taleban militia and to Osama bin Laden. Sharif could only have sought U.S. support in
    internationalizing the diplomatic dispute over Kashmir. He wants the U.S. to push,
    perhaps in the UN Security Council, for internationally mediated negotiations between
    India and Pakistan on Kashmir. This he can declare domestically as a victory, arguing that
    the incursion and his diplomatic initiative put Kashmir on the international agenda.

    That is fine for Sharif, but besides the temporary decrease in tensions in South Asia, what
    does the U.S. get in return? After all, it is far from clear that either side planned or plans to
    escalate the conflict to full scale war, or that a full scale war would degenerate into a
    nuclear exchange. What did the U.S. ask for?

    Washington has a major interest in the region, in regards to which Pakistan might be able
    to offer assistance. The U.S. wants Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden’s head on a platter – or
    at very least on his shoulders in a U.S. prison. Bin Laden is reportedly in Afghanistan,
    under the protection and care of the Taleban militia. The Taleban, in turn, owe their control
    of some 80 percent of Afghanistan to Pakistan, which helped found and nurture them,
    supports them, and reportedly even fights alongside them.

    As Sharif headed back to Pakistan, prepared to call for the withdrawal of infiltrators from
    Indian-controlled Kashmir, the U.S. announced July 6 it was clamping new sanctions on
    the Taleban, including a freeze on Taleban assets in the U.S. and a ban on trade with the
    Taleban. Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar condemned the sanctions, charging July
    7 that the U.S. "has taken a vindictive action because of mutual differences and its
    malicious designs against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." On July 8, chief Taleban
    spokesman Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil insisted the Taleban would survive the sanctions
    and charged the international community with looking for an excuse to assail the Taleban.
    However, Mutawakil also acknowledged that bin Laden is in Afghanistan, under the
    protection and supervision of a special Taleban security detail. Additionally, Mutawakil
    stated the Taleban’s willingness to discuss bin Laden. "We are ready to hold talks with
    the U.S. on Osama. We want to resolve the issue, but no one is willing to listen to us," he
    told the Pakistan based Afghan Islamic Press.

    So, did the looming threat of sanctions terrify the Taleban into willingness to discuss bin
    Laden? Not likely. The Taleban have little to lose, with heroin revenues already subject to
    "sanctions" and the majority of their legal trade going through Pakistan. The sanctions are
    meaningless if the Pakistanis do not abide by them – and that may just be the point. Sharif
    may have agreed to pressure the Taleban on the bin Laden issue in return for the U.S.
    pressuring India and the UN on Kashmir. The sanctions are both a lever and political cover
    for the Pakistani government and the Taleban handing over bin Laden. Whether the U.S.
    sweetened the deal with the possibility of recognizing the Taleban is unclear, though it has
    been suggested as a possibility in the past. U.S. companies are eager to run a pipeline
    from Central Asia through western Afghanistan, and with competition for Central Asia
    heating up between the U.S., Russia, and Iran, this option may be worth recognizing the

    This is all hypothetical, as no variation of this potential deal has been announced or
    leaked. In fact, when asked if the Pakistan talks and the Taleban sanctions were linked,
    State Department spokesman James Foley said, "No." Still, Sharif would not withdraw
    forces from Kashmir for nothing – it would be political suicide. And the Taleban have no
    reason to fear sanctions – but suddenly they are willing to talk. An interesting coincidence,
    if that is all it is.