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Sunday, March 26, 2000, updated at 10:57(GMT+8)


Clinton Embarks on Visit to Pakistan

US President Bill Clinton March 25 embarked on his brief visit to Pakistan at the end of his six-day South Asian tour. This is the first visit by Clinton to Pakistan, during which he will hold talks with Pakistan's Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf on a host of issues, including the thorny Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India.

Islamabad has been urging the U.S. president to play a crucial role in promoting the final solution of the long-standing dispute over which it fought two of its three wars with New Delhi. However, Clinton has failed to persuade India to resume dialogue with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue during his just-ended five-day visit to India.

Combating terrorism will also be high on the agenda of Clinton' s talks with Musharraf. The U.S. president is expected to ask Islamabad to exert influence on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia over the issue of the alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden.

However, Islamabad has repeatedly said that it cannot help on the issue because Afghanistan is an independent country. Moreover, it is widely believed that General Musharraf would defend his government against India's accusation of Islamabad's alleged involvement in terrorist activities in the India- controlled part of Kashmir.

The killing of 35 Sikhs in India-controlled Kashmir, just hours prior to Clinton's arrival in New Delhi, has aroused a fresh wave of Indian attacks on Pakistan and Clinton has expressed his deep concern over the incident.

The nuclear issue will also be one of the focuses of Clinton's discussion here. He is expected to try to convince Pakistan to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty although he has just been frustrated in this regard in India.

In addition, Clinton will urge General Musharraf to return the power to an elected government, according to messages disclosed by White House recently.

General Musharraf, who is also the army chief of Pakistan, resumed the post of Chief Executive in a bloodless coup in October last year which led to the collapse of the former civilian government led by Nawaz Sharif.

While Washington has since been pressuring Islamabad to "return to democracy," General Musharraf once again refused to give a timetable for a general election on Wednesday when he announced the plan of local elections.

Due to the existence of the military government in the country, President Clinton had long hesitated on whether to include Pakistan into his South Asian tour before he finally decided to do so on March 8.

According to a statement of White House, the decision was made in the consideration of the "traditional friendship" with Pakistan, which was the most important ally of the United States in the sub- continent during the Cold War.

According to official sources, President Clinton will also meet his Pakistani counterpart Rafiq Tarar and address the nation through radio and television before his departure later in the afternoon.

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