|Saturday, 12 January 2002|
US keenly anticipating Musharraf speech
WASHINGTON, Jan 10 (AFP) - The United States hopes that President Pervez Musharraf will demonstrate in a major policy address that he is ready to choke off Pakistan-based extremist groups -- but will judge him solely by his actions, officials said Thursday.
Ahead of the speech -- which could be given on Friday or Saturday, US policymakers have adopted a positive tone, though one which could be interpreted as evidence of more subtle, yet firm US pressure on the Pakistani leader.
"What we are hoping to hear in the speech is a strong statement of action against extremism and extremist groups, putting Pakistan on a course that leads to more moderation in politics," said a senior US official on condition of anonymity.
That course should include the political pursuit of a solution to inflammatory issues like the Kashmir situation, the official said.
"Then what we hope to see are actions to carry it out."
The United States has exerted firm pressure on Musharraf for a crackdown on militant groups, since two Pakistan-based outfits were implicated by India in an attack on its parliament on December 13.
India has demanded the handover of 20 militants named on a list it provided to Pakistan, and the United States, currently hosting Indian Home Minister L.K. Advani, has said it would like to see Musharraf act on the request.
Washington has been careful to sweeten its pressure on Musharraf, exerted largely through telephone calls between Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Pakistani president, with regular praise.
It is aware of domestic pressure from militant Islam and the military on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his key role in its war on terrorism in Afghanistan.
"We looking forward to the speech he will be giving later this week, which I think will be a powerful signal to his nation, and to India and to the rest of the world," Powell told reporters on Wednesday after meeting Advani.
"But it's not just a speech; we will be looking to see what additional action he has taken. I believe he has taken quite a bit of action in recent months but, as you well know, the Indians believe more action is required, and we will see what happens in the days and weeks ahead."
Whatever its contents, Musharraf's speech will go a long way towards setting the tone for Powell's visit to South Asia next week, a trip designed to follow up US attempts to soothe South Asian tensions.
"The speech will give a solid indication of the direction," said another official.
"We've come to believe it will be positive."
Officials reject the notion that they are consciously building up the address as a way of increasing the pressure on Musharraf.
The optimistic tone from official Washington is much more nuanced than the language used by Senator Joseph Lieberman, a former vice-presidential candidate who declared in Pakistan this week that the address would "change the history of this country."
"I hope and believe that (his remarks) will be... so bold and principled and fresh that they will encourage a response from the Indian government," the Connecticut Democrat said.
Seemingly concerned by soaring expectations, Pakistani officials Thursday downplayed the importance of the speech.
"It is going to be a major policy speech to contain religious militancy, extremism, intolerance and violence from Pakistani society," one Pakistani official said.
"But it is not linked to India, it is not linked to Kashmir. It is
purely to eliminate terrorism from the Pakistani side."
Produced by Lake House