Clinton Comes Calling

Bill Clinton's March 19 visit to the subcontinent had regional press addressing a slew of issues that complicated every aspect of the U.S. president's journey to India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Even with nuclear proliferation, the Kashmir crisis, Pakistan's military rule, and the struggles of development on the table for the six-day trip, regional excitement was still a major theme. "Clinton Mania Spreads Ahead of Visit," proclaimed a headline in Hong Kong's centrist South China Morning Post on March 13.

Clinton's decision to make a brief stopover in Pakistan on March 25, despite U.S. disapproval of the military government of General Pervez Musharraf, was neither a victory for Pakistan nor a rebuff to the fundamentalist Hindu government of India, according to the leftist Frontier Post of Peshawar, Pakistan, on March 14. Despite American hesitation and Indian protests, "it was a foregone conclusion ­that the United States cannot achieve its objectives of containing nuclear proliferation and promoting durable peace in South Asia without keeping the new leadership in Pakistan engaged."

In India, which has long had a chilly diplomatic relationship with the United States, "the memories of that unfriendly past seem more and more unreal with each passing day," according to the March 20 edition of the centrist Hindustan Times of New Delhi.

But other papers reflected aspects of that prickliness. On March 20, the New Delhi independent Statesman said, "Mr. Jaswant Singh [India's foreign minister] today said the U.S.A. recognizes that India will have a minimum nuclear deterrent program. The United States has acknowledged that it's India who will decide what its minimum deterrent should be, and has accepted India's missile program."

Addressing the increasing economic and political relationship with the United States, commentator K.K. Katyal wrote March 21 in  Madras's conservative The Hindu: "There are good reasons to be upbeat but there is an equally strong justification to be realistic."

Other publications hailed the visit as a decisive shift in U.S. sympathies. "A five-day stay in India and only a few hours in Pakistan shows visible tilt in favor of India," said the March 20 edition of the conservative Daily Excelsior in Jammu, near the disputed Kashmir region.

In Bangladesh, where Clinton visited for a day, the rhetoric of diplomacy was coupled with a frank assessment in the March 20 independent Daily Star. "Clinton termed his visit as 'only the beginning of a stronger partnership.'  We would like to underscore here that for us 'stronger partnership' can and must only mean stronger economic ties."