U.S. caught by surprise by Pakistan coup
October 12, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Clinton administration is keeping a worried watch on Pakistan after a coup Tuesday in which military chief Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf announced on television that he had taken control of the country and "dismissed" the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
With the fate of Sharif unknown, the administration spelled out how U.S.-Pakistani relations could change dramatically.
"Clearly, we would not be in a position to carry on business as usual with Pakistani authorities consistent with our laws," State Department spokesman James Rubin said.
But some South Asia watchers believe it was a "business as usual" relationship between Washington and Karachi that could have contributed to Sharif's problems back home.
The most glaring example was Sharif's unpopular decision last summer to withdraw Pakistani troops from the Kargil region of Kashmir -- giving in to pressure from President Bill Clinton.
"People saw this as a sign of his own weakness -- that he had to run to the Americans for protection. The United States is not the most popular country in Pakistan," explained Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution.
Rubin said that despite a statement last month expressing concern of a possible coup and contacts with senior Pakistani officials in the interim, Washington had no forewarning of Tuesday's events.
He also said if the Pakistani government was overthrown by the military, the United States would push for the restoration of democracy as soon as possible, insisting that Pakistan's constitution "must be respected."
Pakistan, which along with neighboring India is a nuclear power, has been ruled by its military for 25 years of its 52-year history.
Clinton has been hoping to visit India and Pakistan early next year, but officials said this depended on progress by the two countries toward giving international assurances over their newly developed nuclear capabilities.
The Pentagon indicated Tuesday there was no major U.S. concern over control of Pakistan's controversial nuclear arms program because it was normally under army control anyway.
But others aren't so certain about the future.
"The big question about Pakistan is whether its chaotic political system will produce a failed state, where nobody is sure who's in control of its nuclear arsenal," said Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the United States has had a "long strategic relationship" with Pakistan and that the country was "very helpful during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the late 1970s.
But Bacon said all U.S. military assistance to Pakistan was cut off in 1990 when President Bush was required by law to certify that Pakistan was not working to develop a nuclear device. Bacon said Bush felt he could not make that certification.
After Pakistan performed a nuclear test last May, Bacon said there was some talk of restarting the International Military Education Training program to establish a relationship with the Pakistani military. But that never happened.
Gen. Zia Uddin, head of Pakistan's interservices intelligence directorate and Sharif's appointed -- and quickly ousted -- army chief, had visited Washington recently. The Pentagon spokesman said both countries had common concerns to discuss.
"One is counter-narcotics. One is terrorism in Afghanistan, perhaps connected with the Taliban and other forces in Afghanistan," explained Bacon. "So there are reasons for us to have a dialogue with Pakistan."
Rubin said Gen. Musharraf was invited to come to Hawaii, but he declined because of scheduling conflicts.
U.S. officials are concerned about the fate of Sharif and his family, as well as the fate of Pakistani-Indian relations. Although frozen after the Kargil crisis, Sharif had begun peace talks with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The U.S. State Department has warned the 4,200 American citizens believed to currently be in Pakistan to stay close to home.
"We are urging them to exercise caution, number one. And number two, that they limit unnecessary movement outside of their residences," said Rubin.
Correspondent Andrea Koppel and Reuters contributed to this report.
ASIANOW - Pakistan government 'dismissed' by military takeover
The Government of Pakistan
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