Celebrating 25 Years of Scoop
Special: Up To 25% Off Scoop Pro Learn More

News Video | Policy | GPs | Hospitals | Medical | Mental Health | Welfare | Search


US State Department Briefing On Pakistan Crisis

Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, October 12, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1-7 Update on political crisis
2,3,4 Secretary Albright was briefed on the developing political crisis
2,6 American citizens notified of crisis / 4,200 registered American citizens

DPB # 129
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 12, 1999 12:40 P.M.


QUESTION: I assume you're following events in Pakistan. What can you tell us about what you know?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, we have. During the course of the morning, Secretary Albright was briefed by Assistant Secretary Inderfurth about the situation in Pakistan. Our Embassy there has received credible reports that military units are being deployed close to airports, that the television and radio stations are off the air and are being surrounded by troops, that there are troops surrounding the Prime Minister's residence. There has been some disruption of phone service. As far as our Embassy has reported so far, there have been no confirmed instances of violence. The situation is clearly fluid in Pakistan. It is clear that there are credible reports that Pakistan is now in political crisis.

QUESTION: On the eve of the new Prime Minister of India taking the oath today, I mean India time, and some of the anti-peace elements in Pakistan were saying that they do not agree with the two Prime Ministers as Lahore declaration is concerned. So what is the future now of Lahore and other India-Pakistan peace?

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

MR. RUBIN: I am not sure I would assume that the developments in Pakistan are related to the developments in India. I know given the closeness of the proximity of the two countries and the interest in each country in developments in the other that there is a tendency to link such events. At this point, we have not made such a linkage. Our view is based on what we know in the Embassy.

In that regard, let me also add that we have no reports of problems so far with Americans in Pakistan. Our Embassy is notifying American citizens of this crisis and urging them to exercise caution and recommending in particular that they limit unnecessary movement outside of their residences and that they should be contacting our Embassy or consulates in Pakistan.

Let me just give you some rough numbers as of this summer. This is American citizens that have registered so that we know where they are. The rough numbers are 500 in Islamabad; 2,100 in the Karachi region; Lahore, 1,250; and Peshawar, 375, for a total of 4,200 American citizens that we are aware of. That's as opposed to those who might be there for other reasons.

QUESTION: Do you know who is in control of the military? Is it Musharaff or is it the new - the person who was just appointed by Prime Minister Sharif, Ziauddin?

MR. RUBIN: It is very difficult to characterize this ongoing situation. Events are very fluid. There is significant confusion. Our Embassy has reported that there are numerous rumors and reports circulating in Pakistan. We are seeking more information and are seeking that information directly from Pakistani officials.

In that regard, Assistant Secretary Inderfurth is now briefing the Secretary about his meeting with the Pakistani Ambassador, which occurred in the last half an hour, the essence of which was that the Pakistani Ambassador was not able to enlighten us on any of these key points that you've asked about and that we would be in a position to be very interested in.

Assistant Secretary Inderfurth did indicate the strong and intense focus on this matter of Secretary Albright and the White House, that we wanted to obtain from the Pakistani officials here and in Islamabad as much information as possible as quickly as possible. So that is the state of our knowledge in the sense of what we are prepared to say publicly. We are not prepared in a very sensitive time in the middle of a genuine political crisis to speculate without full knowledge.

If you want to follow up?

QUESTION: Yes. Does the US believe that this is a coup?

MR. RUBIN: Let me say again that, until one is in a position to know precisely what has happened, who is in charge, what events took place, it is not possible to make that kind of judgment.

We believe, as we have stated before - and let me reiterate very strongly today - that Pakistan's constitution should be respected in the spirit as well as its letter. The circumstances of this current crisis, this current confrontation within Pakistan, are not yet clear. While Prime Minister Sharif has the constitutional authority to remove military officers, General Musharaff's further two-year term of office was reconfirmed by Mr. Sharif just two weeks ago. So if there has been a coup, we would obviously seek the earliest possible restoration of democracy in Pakistan. Again, I don't want to speculate based on lack of complete and clear information from the Pakistanis themselves or from anybody else.

QUESTION: A couple weeks ago there were warnings coming out of this building, or maybe not out of this building but out of New York, about precisely this thing. Is this the situation that was being envisaged when those warnings were made?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we were clearly not aware of this move in advance. We were absolutely not aware of this development in advance. Obviously, from time to time, we have concerns about extra-constitutional measures, but what we said then and what I can repeat now is that we believe that Pakistan's constitution must be respected not only in its letter but in its spirit.

QUESTION: Right. But, I mean, presumably it's not coincidence that this warning comes out and then this is following it. So, I mean, when the warning was issued, I mean, was this the kind of thing that --

MR. RUBIN: I don't want to characterize it as a warning. When we've made comments about the political situation in Pakistan in recent weeks, we've been quite cognizant of political developments there and we don't regularly get asked nor regularly answer such questions unless we believe it's appropriate to do so. Clearly, we were concerned about extra-constitutional measures. We were also concerned about crackdowns against demonstrators pursuing civil demonstration and their right to freely express their political views. We were concerned about the crackdown in freedom of the press. So we have expressed our concern about not only extra-constitutional measures but also political measures that we believed were not in accordance with the spirit or the letter of the Pakistani constitution.

QUESTION: And just one more quickly. Has the Secretary made any attempt to talk with her?

MR. RUBIN: Not at this time. Secretary Albright asked Assistant Secretary Inderfurth to apprise her of what resulted from his discussion with the Pakistani Ambassador. He, I would assume, has done that by now and she is intensively following this development, following it very closely.

Whether it is appropriate at this time to contact Pakistani officials is something I suspect she will be considering in the days ahead.

QUESTION: Would you like to take this opportunity to repeat those warnings that you made - that were made last month, telling the Pakistani army that you would not look favorably on an attempt to seize power? And, also, since Kashmir seems to be involved in this, in these moves, also to tell the Pakistani army you wouldn't look favorably at any renewal of the attempt to infiltrate people into Indian-controlled Kashmir?

MR. RUBIN: I mean, it may come to that but, for now, we haven't made a judgment about what the political situation is in Pakistan. As I indicated, the situation is confusing and we're not prepared to direct particular comments at the leadership in Pakistan based on an assumption of who that leadership is.

I can say that if there has been a coup, we would seek the earliest possible restoration of democracy in Pakistan and, clearly, we would not be in a position to carry on business as usual with Pakistani authorities, as our laws indicate.

With respect to Kargil, clearly we do believe that an escalation of a very dangerous situation was avoided with the resolution of the Kargil situation. We were quite pleased in the political decisions that were made both in India and Pakistan that enabled that situation to be defused before the interests of both countries were threatened even further. And at this time, what I can tell you is that we do strongly believe that Pakistan's constitution should be respected in both its spirit and its letter.

QUESTION: Do you know where the Prime Minister is and whether he is safe at this point?

MR. RUBIN: I have told you what I am prepared to tell you about our knowledge because the situation is quite confusing. If you look at our clock, you will see that it's very late at night in Islamabad. We are getting the reports as quickly as we can disseminated from the Embassy. I have told you what we know, which is that the military units are being deployed close to airports, that they have occupied television and radio stations, and there have been disruption of phone service and that, apparently, the Prime Minister's residence has been surrounded by military units. Beyond saying that, I am not prepared to speculate at this time.

QUESTION: Lieutenant General Ziauddin was in the States a couple of weeks ago. What can you tell us about that visit and did anybody in this Department or the White House ask him as to whether or not something was in the works, any kind of a --

MR. RUBIN: Well, I wouldn't be in a position to detail a private conversation like that in great detail. I can say this, that General Ziauddin came to Washington for long-scheduled consultations related to his position as head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. He met with counterpart officials and with officials here in the State Department and other agencies.

His visit was part of our ongoing practice of staying in touch with senior levels of the Pakistani military. We had invited, indeed, General Musharaff to come to come to Hawaii, but General Musharaff had declined the invitation to Hawaii because of scheduling conflicts. So we meet with a number of senior military and intelligence officials and, clearly, we talk to them about the situation in their country. That's normal in such a consultation, but we certainly had no advanced knowledge of today's developments.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary not made any calls or anyone else not made any calls to Pakistan because the United States does not know who is in control there? Is that the reason why?

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't jump to any conclusions. We have just met in the last hour with the Ambassador from Pakistan to the United States. Our Embassy is in touch with its counterparts in Pakistan. These events have occurred in a matter of a few hours, and although reporters' filing times may occur every hour, that doesn't mean government functions on that schedule.

In our view, the right course of action right now is to try to ascertain as best we can the situation, make some judgments about what we can know and what we can't know, and from there make decisions as to who to contact and when. No such decisions have been made. I wouldn't assume that the reason you speculated that we didn't call was the reason we haven't yet called.

Do you have a follow-up to that?

QUESTION: Where was the meeting between them?

MR. RUBIN: Here in the Department. Did you have a question?

QUESTION: Yes. Obviously, Pakistan is a nuclear power. Are you concerned about control of nuclear material and nuclear weapons within Pakistan during this coup attempt?

MR. RUBIN: First of all, I've been very careful not to characterize it the way you have characterized it. Again, I think it would be premature to jump to grand conclusions. We have always been concerned about the fact that Pakistan and India have been taking steps to develop a nuclear weapons capability. That is one of the reasons why we are strongly in favor of the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, because we believe that that will be another lever and another tool in our effort to convince Pakistan and India not only to sign the treaty - and, clearly, the governments there wouldn't sign the treaty if they didn't think it was in their national interest - but also to ratify the treaty. As we have seen in the case of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the United States often plays a leading role.

With respect to control of the nuclear capability Pakistan may have, I don't think there is a fear right this moment that that is jeopardized by recent developments. That doesn't mean that couldn't change and I wouldn't want to make any elaborate statement for all time on that. But right now, this is a political crisis, not anything more than that.

QUESTION: Do you have anything extra on the disruption of phone lines? Do you have any impression that the military is deliberately cutting communications to --

MR. RUBIN: It's a good question. I just don't know the answer. They did report interruptions in phone service that they thought were linked to the fact that the television and the radio were surrounded and you saw various major communications nodes affected. So I don't know the reasons for it or what the intentions behind those who might have done it would be.

QUESTION: Your consultations from the Embassy to Americans and the Embassy to officials, are they telling people to come to work tomorrow? Do you expect a normal day under the circumstances, or are they telling people to stay home?

MR. RUBIN: As I indicated earlier, the basic message is we are urging them to exercise caution, number one; and, number two, that they limit unnecessary movement outside of their residences. That is the term of art that we've used to signal our concern for the security situation. Obviously, if people feel it's absolutely necessary to go to their office for some reason or another, they may choose to do so. But we're saying any unnecessary movements outside the residence we would recommend against.

QUESTION: Just to follow up and make sure I understand, is that the message to all Americans or is that the message to official Americans?

MR. RUBIN: All American citizens.

QUESTION: Do you know or can you say if there has been any military activity on the border with India on either side, India or Pakistan, and especially in Kashmir?

MR. RUBIN: I will have to check that for you. It wouldn't be unusual for there to be military activity along that border; there is most days.

QUESTION: Just to follow one more. Are you saying no one, as of now, we are speaking, have contacted from the Pakistani military, from any units or from government, either here in Washington or the US Embassy in Islamabad?

MR. RUBIN: No, I didn't say that. I said we are seeking our information from a variety of sources inside of Pakistan, including a variety of Pakistani officials. As far as the high-level contact is concerned, when I was asked about the Secretary making phone calls, I indicated that diplomatically the highest level contact that I am aware of now has been with their Ambassador here and our Assistant Secretary here in the Department.

QUESTION: Just one more follow up. I'm sorry. Islamabad, I mean, Nawaz Sharif has been sending high-level officials here including his brother, who came here in Washington, and they had indicated that his government is in trouble unless Washington comes to rescue as late as last week even they have told that military coup could come at any time.

MR. RUBIN: Well, in addition to repeating the point that Pakistan's constitution should be respected in spirit as well as letter, let me say the current circumstances, although they are not yet clear, Prime Minister Sharif has the constitutional authority to remove military officers. General Musharaff's further two-year term of office was reconfirmed by Mr. Sharif just two weeks ago, so that is worthy of note.

QUESTION: Why are you pointing that out? You seem to be suggesting that Sharif has an obligation to keep this guy.

MR. RUBIN: I didn't say that. I was pointing out the facts, and that just two weeks ago he was reconfirmed in his post and obviously something changed since then.

QUESTION: But you are not in a position to condemn the actions of any one group or --

MR. RUBIN: Until we know the facts surrounding what's going on now, today, inside of Pakistan and who these units are, who they are reporting to, there are a number of different theories being speculated upon about who these units are and who they report to. And until one knows the facts, it would be imprudent to direct messages at one place or another.

QUESTION: Do we have any evidence of confrontations between different military units?

MR. RUBIN: What I can say at this time is we have seen no confirmed instances of violence but, obviously, the situation is fluid.

QUESTION: Let us say it is a coup. Then what Washington is willing to do and how far Washington is willing to go or ready to work with the military, whoever comes in power?

MR. RUBIN: I think I indicated in response to your colleagues' questions several times now that if there has been a coup, we would seek the earliest possible restoration of democracy in Pakistan and, in the meantime, clearly we would not be in a position to carry on business as usual with Pakistani authorities consistent with our laws.

I think we have exhausted this subject.

QUESTION: A little more than a year when we were going through the nuclear testing by both India and Pakistan, the United States, I believe, cut off the few remaining relationships - other than diplomatic, of course. Could you just give us an update on where all that stands?

MR. RUBIN: Right. I can get you some material but, basically, in May of 1998 we terminated foreign assistance that wasn't humanitarian assistance; we terminated defense article sales and defense service sales, construction services, licenses for the export of items on the U.S. munitions list, foreign military financing, credit guarantees and loans by international financial institutions.

We have made modest adjustments to that in terms of distinguishing between entities that are involved with the India and Pakistani nuclear missile or conventional programs that advises companies in advance - American companies - of what trade is permitted and not permitted. That was put in the Federal Register in mid-November 1998 to make an update following some positive developments. Obviously, we have also made exceptions for humanitarian-type loans in the international financial institutions.

© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland

Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.