Bypassing a democracy-toppling military regime is normally an easy call. But Pakistan is a key to regional stability and to battling terrorism. The Pentagon is pushing hard for Clinton to go in order to mend badly frayed military-to-military ties, and Clinton is said to believe that establishing a personal link to ruler General Pervez Musharraf could be vital in defusing a crisis. But Clinton's security is a major concern, as is the danger of sending the wrong message about U.S. commitment to democracy and weapons nonproliferation. Progress in those areas if it comes soon could tip the balance in favor of going.
President Clinton is nearing a decision on whether to add Pakistan to his historic trip to India this month, and advisers know he'll be criticized no matter what he does. The visit promises to be the riskiest of his presidency, since India-Pakistan relations are spiraling downward, and both countries are now armed with nukes but without the nuclear doctrine to prevent or limit their use. With each side hoping to use a Clinton trip for one-upmanship in their rivalry, "this would be tricky even if Pakistan hadn't had a coup" last October, says a senior administration official.