Pakistan's military has ruled the country for most of its five-decade history, and it has traditionally relied on close support from the U.S. But that was, in large part, a Cold War relationship based on the perception that India was aligned with the Soviet Union, and President Clinton's five-day visit to Pakistan's most hated enemy signals a growing rapprochement between Washington and New Delhi. "Pakistan will do its best to be amenable to U.S. concerns because it wants to slow the warming relationship between India and the U.S.," says Calabresi. And with his economy still teetering on the brink of collapse, the general has an added incentive for making nice with Washington. Not all of his countrymen agree, however. The burgeoning Islamic fundamentalist movement remains Pakistan's political growth sector, and its hostility to Washington is implacable. And that creates an overwhelming incentive for the U.S. to maintain links with the unstable nuclear-armed state, no matter how soon it plans to go to the polls.
He's not exactly putting on the Ritz, but Pakistan's General Parvez Musharraf is certainly trying to put his regime's best face forward for Saturday's brief encounter with President Clinton. The general announced Thursday that local government elections would be held by the middle of next year, to be followed by national elections at an unspecified date. "This is throwing up some smoke in case the U.S. needs cover for its relationship with Pakistan," says TIME State Department correspondent Massimo Calabresi. Washington has called for a speedy restoration of democracy ever since the general's overthrow of the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last October. But the U.S. has more pressing concerns with Pakistan than the date of its next election: "Terrorism is a big one," says Calabresi, "although they prefer to discuss it behind closed doors. They want Pakistan to get tougher with the Taliban and also to cut ties with certain terrorist groups. And, of course, they want them to get rid of their nuclear weapons, although Washington knows there's not much likelihood of that. And finally, they want Pakistan to stop cross-border incursions in Kashmir and to pursue peace with India."