NEW DELHI, March 19
The visit of President Bill Clinton to Pakistan will not be �easy� but is necessary to impress upon the military government the need for a return to constitutional rule, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Sunday.
Albright, in an interview with AFP as she prepared to join Clinton on his south Asian tour here, said General Pervez Musharraf, who took power in an October coup, would hear first-hand the need for that change.
�It's not an easy part of the visit,� Albright said of the brief stop she the president and others will make Saturday in Islamabad.
�Pakistan basically has a choice in terms of which direction it's going to go in, whether the government that came in by coup can in fact work on a sustained basis towards having a return to constitutional, civilian government,� she said.
Clinton has come under criticism for deciding to make the trip to Pakistan with some complaining that it sends the wrong signal to an unelected government that has in recent days cracked down on civil rights.
But Albright repeated the point the president and others have made since the Islamabad stop was announced, flatly denying that the visit was an endorsement of Musharraf.
�Our statement there (will be) that we have had and will have a close relationship with the Paksitani people,� Albright said.
�There will be nothing that happens (that will) indicate that we support the Musharraf government.�
Washington will be looking to hear Musharraf make the right noises on returning to civilian rule, as well as on US concerns about terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and the conflict with India over the disputed province of Kashmir, Albright said.
She offered some praise for action taken recently regarding local elections in Pakistan yet at the same time was clear that such moves, while welcome, were not enough.
�We think that's a step in the right direction but there has to be respect for the rule of law, civilian control of the military,� Albright said.
Asked whether Musharraf needed to remove himself completely from leadership for Washington to be satisified, Albright demurred.
�We haven't said that. What we've said is they need to take a number of steps,� she said.
Pressed on the matter, she answered: �It's very hypothetical, I don't know, I suppose he could get himself elected.
�But that is not the issue. The issue is hearing the steps that he directs to bring about a (move) toward a constitutional government.�
SRINAGAR, India, March 19
India and Pakistan exchanged heavy artillery fire along their disputed border for the third successive day Sunday, hours before the arrival of US President Bill Clinton, an army spokesman said.
The spokesman described the incidents as �routine exchange of fire with enemy troops over Line of Control (LoC),� dividing Indian and Pakistan-held Kashmir.
The artillery duel started on Friday and continued Sunday, police sources said adding there were no casualities on the Indian side.
Police sources said intermittent firing was on at several places in northern Kashmir and artillery duels were also reported from southern border areas of R.S. Pora, Akhnoor, Poonch and Rajouri region.
Since Friday some two dozen houses were totally or partially damaged in northern Uri sector, which came under intense shelling, police official Aziz Akbar told AFP by telephone.
�Intermittent shelling is going on and shells have landed in Churanda, Tulawari, Garkote, Sokad, Balkote and Navarunda village of Uri, but without causing any casualties,� Akbar said.
The spokesman said Pakistani troops opened �unprovoked artillery and mortar firing on Indian army installations and civilian border localities along LoC.
�The fire is being effectively returned by the Indian army.�
Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, is claimed by both India and Pakistan and has been the cause of two wars.
�By resorting to border shelling, Pakistan is trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue in view of Clinton's visit to the sub-continent,� the army spokesman said.
India will command the lion's share of Clinton's tour, sandwiched between a one-day visit to Bangladesh on Monday and a stopover of a few hours Saturday in Islamabad.
New Delhi has rejected US offers to mediate over Kashmir.
More than 25,000 people have died in separatist-linked violence in Indian-controlled Kashmir since the launch of an armed insurgency in 1989.
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